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Television at Vicar Street, 21st of November 2013

You can be guaranteed of Television’s place on every punk and new wave compilation from here to eternity on the merit of Marquee Moon alone. Their quintessential tune, with that unmistakeable riff and interlocking fretwork of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, raised the band to a level above their New York contemporaries, transcending the limitations of punk with its idiosyncratic drum style and intricate arrangement. After parting ways in ’78, the band reformed in 1992 for an eponymous third album, but Lloyd left less than amicably in 2007 (“I decided that Television was like a bad girlfriend”) to be replaced by Jimmy Kip. Forty years from inception – and with a similar outing this week in Dublin from Pixies – it’s hard to think of recent Television tours as anything other than a nostalgia trip. The Vicar Street demographic certainly suggests the same, but tonight when the band eventually slips into gear, it barely matters.

Katie Kim opens the darkened stage alone, armed only with her electric guitar and pedals. The lights provide an effective focusing of attention with Kim’s face and white Fender practically the only visible elements to accompany her darkly evocative musings. Multiple, diverging vocal harmonies are layered to fine effect, each one subtly adding another contrasting hue on top of the restrained guitar notes. A whine drifts in the background somewhere between a violin and a distant wind as Kim augments her lead vocal and guitar with effects, and as an impressive set builds to a vocally-oriented crescendo it is with a somewhat more silenced crowd than it began with.

Bells toll over the PA system – a knell that coaxes bodies in from the bar – becoming louder and more insistent as four men appear onstage. Drums and guitars slowly knit together as the intro to Glory comes together. Verlaine appears somewhat reticent at the mic until the first of the night’s guitar solos is done and dusted with Elevation. A wag asks how Richard is; whether he means Lloyd or Hell we don’t know -“I know many Richards and they’re all fine.” The band are loose onstage, tuning as they go and with no real concern given to ending a song on the same beat. Verlaine requires more light to see the strings for Little Johnny Jewel, their first single, while the band lapse into a weary jam until his request is granted; when the song kicks in, Verlaine then breaks away to ask for a light to be turned off. It’s a somewhat hesitant beginning to the night thus far, but when the song’s latter half is given over to Verlaine and his more muscular, groove-laden soloing style than Kip’s, the momentum lost at the start is regained.

Venus, conversely, comes on like a dream, and it’s one of those indefinable moments that completely turns a gig around. From this point on the band seem to bring it together, and the gig’s zenith comes not from Marquee Moon but from the extended fugue of the relatively recent Persia. Lloyd Smith’s snaking bassline leads them in as the Eastern-tinged song gains in power forming into a hypnotic march. Verlaine flashes experimental, seemingly improvisational licks, trading off with Billy Ficca’s drumming. That circular, mesmeric bass riff ties it all together before the song grinds to a halt, only to re-start in a modified fashion to let the two guitarists weave around one another.

The expected uproarious response to Marquee Moon is carried through to the song’s finale, as the crowd greet its many twists and turns and Verlaine does his iconic thing while his companions hold the structure. There is a distinct contrast to his and Kip’s style, the latter’s just that bit more conventional than Verlaine’s textured fretwork. They hark back once again to the very early days with the more overtly rock’n’roll encore of I’m Gonna Find You, and the fedora’d Kip takes the last of the night’s many guitar solos on See No Evil. As they depart for the final time Verlaine offers a shy wave, ever the reluctant showman. It’s a gig of two halves – a shaky start, granted, but when they eventually relax into the show it’s as rousing a set as we’ve seen.

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Photos: Aaron Corr