Strangely enough, it was when we were attending the Hopscotch Festival to see John Cale and Pere Ubu in September that we discovered that Television were playing at the Georgia Theatre exactly two months later. When we picked up our wristbands and received the program book, my wife was excited to note that Television were playing the Georgia Theatre in a well placed ad in its pages.
“We should go,” she said, and I immediately hit the iPad® to survey the situation. The last time we were in Athens, GA, in 2010, we walked by the remains of the Georgia Theatre which were just its front wall. The entire structure apart from that was gone, as the result of a terrible fire in 2009. But by now, it had risen from its ashes and was once again a prime room for sound in Downtown Athens. Ideal for those shows that were too large for the 40 Watt and still needed some breathing room. I saw that tickets at that time were almost sold out by so I purchased a pair on the spot. This meant that by now, the Rocktober celebration was spilling over into November.
I’d never seen Television live, of course. They had broken up years before my first rock concert in 1983. But I had seen Tom Verlaine solo as the opening act on the Peter Murphy “Love Hysteria” tour along with The Church. Incredible value for money, you’ll agree, but that was Tom with an acoustic guitar. A far cry from Television, certainly. When I met my wife, “Marquee Moon” was among the titles that we combined into our record collection. So seeing them together now was predestined, in a way.
We took the scenic route to Athens and were rewarded with the last brilliant display of fall colors in the mountains of North Carolina that day. Doors were at 8:00 and the show was at 9:00. We ate a fab dinner at The National and picked up our tickets at Will Call. There was an opening act soundchecking at the time. We made our way to Wuxtry Records for some shopping. It was the only shopping happening in downtown Athens on a Thursday night, as it turned out. Everything else was closed.
We arrived at the venue around eight and made our way up to the balcony area. Lo and behold, there were barstools along the railings there at each level; the only seating in the place. The venue was nicely rebuilt with the right balance between rustic and elegant. The proscenium was bedecked with red velveteen curtains and brightly lit against the blue light onstage. The theatre was not very deep so the balcony was only 60 feet or so back from the stage. Our vantage point was great and having a seat for a change was a nice change of pace. We found seats and struck up conversations with our neighbors given that they were a friendly lot on either side. The opening act were T. Hardy Morris. Unsavory wafts of the Cowboy Junkies emanated from the stage to our perch above the stage. But after 35 minutes we moved onto bigger and better things.
It was almost 10:30 when Television strode onstage for the sold out audience. This “tour” was only three dates spread equally across this great land of ours. This was the first Television activity since 2007 and their second with second guitarist Jimmy Rip taking the place of Richard Lloyd, who had reactivated Rocket From The Tombs with Dave Thomas of Pere Ubu in 2006. The other dates were in San Francisco and Austin, Texas. So anyone on the East Coast who wanted to see Television had to be here tonight.
The band opened with “Venus” and followed up with “Elevation;” both from “Marquee Moon.” I was immediately struck by the vibrant drums and percussion courtesy of Billy Ficca. He was pretty spellbinding to watch during “Elevation” with its complex time signature changes, but he wasn’t in Neil Peart territory. He was serving the song in a quieter way. And with the third song, the bomb dropped for me.
I had never heard the third Television album from 1992, so I was not familiar with “1880 Or So.” But by the end of the performance it would be burned into my mind, indelibly. I have seen some great guitarists live; Robert Fripp, Link Wray, Dick Dale. To this list I have to say that the twin guitar work that Tom Verlaine and Jimmy Rip were serving up was on a level that I had not anticipated at all. This was utterly captivating work that was geometrically the sum of its brilliant parts. This was some of the finest guitar playing that I had ever heard. This caliber of playing certainly didn’t happen every day, so when it did, I paid rapt attention as the concert ascended to new, higher levels after a brief buildup.
Next came the band’s seminal debut single “Little Johnny Jewel” that had been morphed into an astonishing construction bearing little resemblance to the 7″ A-side I had heard once or twice. This was a jewel that had dozens of glittering facets as the number was stretched to marathon length in the hands of a deeply capable band. Television had certainly gotten my attention by this point and I was paying rapt attention to what was unfolding for us. At midpoint my wife offered how Verlaine reminded her of Robert Fripp. I didn’t hear it. “How so,” I asked. I wasn’t hearing any Frippery as I call it. She replied it was in the intention of his playing that he reminded her of Headmaster Fripp. Very astute, I thought. I could learn a lot from this woman.
The band were said to be performing unreleased work that had been recorded [but not yet mixed] in sessions dating back several years. “Persia” was one such tune that came with a Morricone sound at its onset. This was another of the longer, sprawling tunes on offer this evening. Its unfamiliarity was no barrier to its acceptance and the fans appreciated this as much as it had with classic material like “See No Evil.” Then it was time for the awe-inspiring title track to “Marquee Moon.”
When the the first bars of the intro began the excitement spread through the theater like a whirlwind. The sound all evening had been superb. Punchy and detailed with a transparent vibrancy that rewarded our unprotected ears. No plugs were needed since it was not overamped. This was not about force, but finesse. Verlaine coaxed amazing sounds out of his guitar without resorting to pedals. He colored his canvas by variance in his physical attack of the strings on his fretboard. It was Jimmy Rip who had a massive pedalboard to play counterpoint to the more purist Verlaine. Together, they took that summer into the stratosphere. By the time that their perfectly synchronized peals began the distinctive crescendos of the song’s climax we were all agog at the power those two were emanating. The Fripp comparisons were right to the forefront by this time since what I was hearing was certainly on par with “Lark’s Tongues In Aspic.” The sound was simply amazing. Like with Dick Dale in 1994, I was thunderstruck by what guitars were capable of in the right hands.
After that, what else could you do but say goodnight? The band were offstage for a hot minute before they returned for another new number and an incredible final song; a cover of The Count Five’s garage rock classic “Psychotic Reaction.” This time, they had one more flourish to deliver as the faux-Yardbirds song had never been in such talented hands before. Here was a tune that was designed to be simple to play effectively in the hands of masters who took it to places that were never imagined by its progenitors. And then they left the stage. My wife and I were stunned. We had expected a good show. They had delivered transcendence. The next day later I listened to “Marquee Moon” and it seemed somehow diminished. It had been transformed by the delivery onstage that evening and the studio version would now exist in the long shadow of this mighty live performance.
Television | Georgia Theatre – Athens, GA | November 7, 2013
- 1880 Or So
- Little Johnny Jewel
- See No Evil
- Torn Curtain
- Prove It
- Guiding Light
- Marquee Moon
- I’m Gonna Find You
- Psychotic Reaction
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