Forming in 1973, the band eventually found its footing trafficking in the spare electric guitar poetics of Lou Reed, though the complex interlocking guitar work of their still-astounding 1977 debut, “Marquee Moon” came more out of avant jazz or even double guitar rock.
Actually, there wasn’t anything much like Television then and hasn’t been since. It’s as if the songs were based on spiraling guitar solos that were hammered into melodic structures on which to base songs on which other solos appeared.
If punk songs rushed by with messy urgency, these expanded and elongated with elegance and experimentation.
As classic as that first album is, it’s no surprise that seven of the eight cuts on “Marquee Moon” dominated the Television show at The 930 Club in Washington Tuesday night (Though the one they left out may have been a surprise; fans saw no “See No Evil”).
By now the band features frontman Tom Verlaine but not guitarist Richard Lloyd, who was so crucial to the total sound. Lloyd, who put some solo albums worth searching out, was part of the revived Television in 1992 and its occasional tours since then, at least until 2007.
That’s when Jimmy Rip, who had worked with Verlaine previously (as well as a half dozen New York rock acts) stepped in.
Rip, in his hat and long grey beard, has a thankless role, reproducing classic and difficult guitar structures while trying to find a way to insert his own personality.
It was fascinating to see the interplay of Verlaine and Rip close up, just to untangle who played what in the originals. But it may also have been misleading, as Verlaine at one point started picking up the riff Rip had started in “Marquee Moon.”
Backed by original drummer Billy Ficca and Fred Smith (the other Fred Smith), the band overall seemed to lack the tension of those original recordings, which I supposed is understandable after 40 years. Still, it undermined some songs and led to some serious missteps at song endings, both with the “Marquee Moon” that ended the main set and “Friction” in the sole encore.
The ending in the latter was so ridiculous even Verlaine had to chuckle, after detuning a string to slack.
But that happens sometimes when bands experiment and go off to the edge; sometimes they can’t find their way all the way back. In the night’s longest song, a newer unrecorded Eastern-flavored thing called “Persia” that had Rip’s guitar sounding like keyboard notes, they jammed so far into the ether even the Dead might have come to mind.
But throughout, this is a band that stayed true to its original ethos: a four piece with the minimum of effect. At the outset, Verlaine, looking like a slim, aimiable college professor at 66, asked that the already low lights be dimmed lower. Spotlights never flashed and there was never anything approaching a light show.
When feedback arose during “Guiding Light,” there was a bit of hell to pay just from the look he shot the sound man, but he admitted he may have caused it by singing too much like Johnny Mathis.
It was odd that there was nothing from the band’s second album “Adventure” and just one selection from the self-titled 1992 comeback.
“Little Johnny Jewel” was missing from the basic set that they’ve been playing since earlier this year in South America, which made the oldest thing they did was a kind of throbbing 1950s ballad that never made the first record.
But nobody would have suggested cutting anything from this rarely-rising “Marquee Moon.”
Opening the show would have been another innovator who arose in the 70s, but Chris Stamey was replaced at the last minute by one of his proteges, Skylar Gudasz. Stamey produced Gudasz’s solo debut “Oleander” earlier this year and she appeared with him during the big Big Star tribute show that has come through town.
Still, you got the idea that her solo show was a little heavier on the electric guitar in honor of the headliner. She said she’ll be bringing a band when she returns to the 930 Oct. 14 to open for Teenage Fanclub.
The setlist for Television at the 930 Club Tuesday was:
- “Prove It”
- “Torn Curtain”
- “1880 or So”
- “I’m Gonna Find You”
- “Guiding Light”
- “Marquee Moon”