LIVE REPORT: Television
, September 1st, 2015 15:27
"We live in a time in which you no longer had to be there". Tim Burrows witnesses Television at Green Man. Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
"I remember how the darkness doubled. I recall, lightning struck itself. I was listening, listening to the rain. I was hearing, hearing something else."
Tom Verlaine's lyrics could be an accurate recollection of what is zig-zagging through the heads of those trying to stay dry in Green Man's sprawling campsite at 4am on its final morning, curled up in dripping tents some hours after Television left the Mountain Stage. The festival occurs in a bowl amid the dramatic backdrop of the Brecon Beacons. People say it has its own weather here, where clouds can creep in and don't budge. Rain threatens but never quite materialises during the New York veterans' late-evening set, but the deluge that starts during Super Furry Animals triumphant homecoming show lasts for the next 14 hours, replete with thunder and the aforementioned lightning, leading chemical toilets and chemical minds to leak into the bog in a coagulating kind of harmony.
There's something rather nuff-said about Television's Tom Verlaine on stage, as if he's aware his slot represents the calm before the literal storm. It's a serenity that's more likely earned by the knowledge he's written a song of such magnitude as 'Marquee Moon'. He seems to float there, his clothes hanging from him unobtrusively as they have always seemed to from the photographs, but long minus the slashes and the rips.
Patti Smith's one-time lover and all-time favourite guitar-poet, Verlaine conspired to formulate this mysterious song on his acoustic guitar some years before Marquee Moon finally came out in 1977. It's a record that has left a slug-trail of praise since it came out 38 years ago. Pitchfork once gave an only slightly hysterical 10 out of 10 when it was reissued in 2003, during the dying embers of the early noughties New York revival in which many a young discoverer liked to play the game of figuring out exactly which Television songs gave the Strokes their angular guitar style.
We live in a time in which you no longer had to be there. You can chart the many "live" lives of the song 'Marquee Moon' on YouTube: from its earlier, messier incarnation when Television were CBGB's house band; to the fuzzy and majestic June 1978 version live at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco, recorded weeks before the first incarnation of the band split up.
The Green Man gig is billed as a journey through the band's classic album for an audience made up of people who on the whole weren't there first time round. But this isn't a slick retelling, at least not to begin with. At first, it's as if the different parts of Television's combustible whole aren't getting into gear: the Cadillac doesn't putter, it splutters. The original rhythm section Fred Smith and Billy Ficca labour slightly during the opener See No Evil, the most uptempo track on the album, with Ficca's scattering and skittering freeform jazz drum juggernaut sounds lonely, Smith's bass twanging stark, a bit off. But slowly it all begins to click. In front of a row of Vox amps, Verlaine and original guitarist Richard Lloyd's replacement Jimmy Rip's guitars traverse in and out of one another's space; Verlaine plays like he's a spider weaving a web.
The album's formidable nature slowly reveals itself. Verlaine's vocal style hasn't really changed much. The Delaware-born musician never had a conventional rock'n'roll singing voice in the first place. He begs the lighting people for blue hue over them before the drama of Torn Curtain; Friction is a real highlight, cascading melody lines and audience singing along; Venus de Milo, with its paradoxical line: "I fell right into the arms of Venus de Milo", is too.
The rearranged set list pushes the title track to the end, a common-sense move as not much could really follow it. Halfway through 'Marquee Moon', the song brings me to tears.
Are Television a one album band? Or even a one song band? It's not as if the rest of their work is bad; just that this song surpasses everything else. It's so oddly sparse yet vibrant, so detached yet so warm, signifying nothing and somehow everything. 'Marquee Moon' could be many things, but upon closer inspection, it turns out to be none of them. It's movement around the graveyard could make it macabre - but it's not at all. It's journey-like qualities - the cadillac that putters - suggest perhaps an allegory, but it's too conflicted, too immediate, too doubled in darkness and oxymoronic for any real reading of this kind.
It's why it grabs me here so hard. Thinking of this man carting his song around for over 40 years, and it still works. It clicks something into place, reminds you that you're here, you're alive too. In what other art form could you find such a thing occurring collectively, apart from music. Visual arts? No way, too elitist. Film or television? Too removed from the immediacy of audience. A figure such as Verlaine being able to tour the world because of a song. Whatever rock music is about (or indeed, if you're a half-empty kinda person, was about) perhaps this might be it.
The next morning, many wake up in the wet, their tents not made to withstand such a deluge. But most stay and soldier on until Monday - and it can't only be thanks to the ale.