Brooklyn Quintet Reinforce Underground-Rock Renown
CHICAGO — Besides indie-rock hipsters, there was something else that filled Chicago’s Metro on Monday night for TV on the Radio’s sold-out concert: Doubt.
Each connoisseur who walked through the club’s doors came to get an answer to the question of whether or not this group — an underground, art-rock sensation thanks in part to their widely praised second album — could deliver on the hype in Pitchfork’s hometown.
In a swift, sweaty and frenetic 80-minute set, the quintet was fired to hammer home the answer, giving an electrifying performance capable of winning over any remaining skeptics and proving that there was a thoroughly human heartbeat behind their studio-smelted creations.
Beginning as a post-punk-meets-dub studio project in their Brooklyn, N.Y., headquarters, TV on the Radio has morphed into a fully-functioning quintet. Since their first EP, the group has been torn between pasting together its thoroughly post-modern, genre-straddling songs in the studio and the challenges of performing as a living, breathing unit. Live, there are no overdubs.
Monday’s concert demonstrated that these former studio rats were determined to offer a more traditional rawk experience than one might initially expect, with shrill guitar riffing replacing their albums’ stereophonic richness. Although this is the kind of rock show in which most of the band looked like bespectacled mad professors and a guitar player had a wind chime hanging from his guitar’s headstock. (Wind chimes aside, the musicians did make other valiant attempts to recreate musical nuances, occasionally abandoning their primary instruments to experiment with assorted percussion, mouth-blown melodica and even trying a little human beatboxing to add texture.)
Guitar players Dave Sitek and Kyp Malone dominated the group’s live sound, partnering with their snaky and contrasting distorted lines. Their playing towed the other members along as they slide into a spellbinding “Dirtywhirl.” The pair’s fast-strumming served as a musical engine for “Wolf Like Me,” propelling the locomotive rhythm as frontman Tunde Adebimpe’s howled the lyrics of werewolf love with appropriate lust. On “Wash The Day,” the guitarists exchanged oversized, Queen-like riffs to create a fuzzing wall of volume that repeatedly shuttered as drummer Jaleel Bunton smashed through his kit like a ’70s rock god.
While the guitars were certainly brash, the deep-throated, earthy tone of Adebimpe’s singing was surprisingly immune to the higher decibel levels. So was his eerie, falsetto harmonizing with Malone, which forms the group’s only explicit link to roots music. Adebimpe’s voice is robust and has indefatigable star quality that the group harnessed by using two vocals mikes (the second for vocal effects). At the same time, his voice also could easily form a third type of identity in union with Malone’s. The duo sounded almost angelic during “Province.” Later, on “Blues From Down Here,” they were like a gaggle of ghouls moaning between the Neil Young-ish guitar bursts.
Not only an exceptional singer, Adebimpe is also a dynamic and confident performer who appeared completely overwhelmed by the music. As his band members were focused on playing with precision, he bristled with energy, stomping his feet and bouncing around the stage as his arms whirled about his head like R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. His arm flailing seemed like he was trying to conduct an invisible mosh pit.
His singing was already one of TV on the Radio’s key assets, but his manic stage presence serves to sweeten the deal. His performance is arresting even when the band tries something as provocative as rearranging older material.
Take “The Wrong Way,” from the group’s first record, which was completely remade as a revival-meeting anthem. The recorded version’s jazzy baritone saxophones were abandoned and replaced by Sitek and Malone’s early Clash-style guitar assault delivered at breakneck pace. If this was an attempt at conversion, Adebimpe proved the most fanatical convert. For the entire song, he pounded his sweaty chest to the beat and bellowed the lyrics with barely controlled passion.
The group’s best older songs, however, were left largely intact. Bunton perfectly duplicated the thudding, formerly synthetic beats on songs like “Young Liars,” “Dreams,” “Poppy” and “Staring At The Sun,” but with additional power. This bolstered the explosions of abrasive guitars — Sitek often slapped his with some jingle bells for extra dissonance. Adebimpe and Malone sang the familiar melodies but inserted new twists on certain words as Vangelis-influenced keyboards hovered above them and sometimes seemed to chime in.
The band’s performance was not always stoic artistes at work — it did have its moments of humor too. During the second song, the Afro-ed Malone was consumed by a sprayed plume from a smoke machine on the lip of the stage. When the song concluded, Malone quietly voiced a simple request.
“To the man responsible for the smoke,” he said. “Please keep the magic to yourself.”
More comic relief came when the members of opening band Grizzly Bear — who were impressive with their mellow, ethereal set (think of Queensryche’s “Silent Lucidity”) — joined the band for a finale of “Let The Devil In.” Sitek tossed his guitar aside and he, Adebimpe and their guests began shaking assorted jingle bells and prancing around the tightly packed stage like a troupe of minstrels. Bunton deftly hammered away at a drum pattern tailored for a marching band. Malone sang the lead like an unassuming bluesman as he bombarded the audience with shards of white noise from his Gibson Les Paul guitar
The show was a complete victory. TV on the Radio certified that music dreamed up in an antiseptic studio could not only be recreated live, but become even bolder when presented with human fury behind it. Better still, the group also gave each rock snob a definitive answer to their lingering question: Believe the hype.
TV On The Radio’s Remaining Tour Dates:
- Tuesday, Oct. 10, Detroit
- Thursday, Oct. 12, Toronto
- Friday, Oct. 13, Montreal
- Saturday, Oct. 14, Boston
- Sunday, Oct. 15, Washington, D.C.
- Tuesday, Oct. 17 and Wednesday, Oct. 18, New York
- Friday, Oct. 20, Baltimore
For More Info:
- Soundbytes: Review: TV On The Radio Broadcast Unique Musical Transmissions
- TV On The Radio’s Official Web Site
- TV On The Radio’s MySpace.com Page
- Completely Surrounded By No Trees (Official Blog)
- 4AD’s Official TV On The Radio Site
- Touch And Go Records’ Official TV On The Radio Site
Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.
©Copyright 2006 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.