Groundbreaking New York City band Television released the equally groundbreaking Marquee Moon
in 1977, the year I was born. Aside from a self-titled album in 1992 and a handful of onstage reunions, the band has been largely inactive since 1978. With the very notable exception of guitarist Richard Lloyd—especially for a group so renowned for its dual guitar interplay; Lloyd has been replaced by the surprisingly worthy Jimmy Rip in recent years—the sight of the (mostly) classic line-up on the Rialto stage tuning their guitars warranted a double take, if not a complete jaw drop. I never expected to see these songs played by these people in my lifetime—after the previous week’s sterling Echo & the Bunnymen show, I’m half-expecting David Bowie to show up with the Velvet Underground to play the Rialto any day now.
The sound Television laid out on Marquee Moon
and its ’78 follow-up, Adventure
, is nearly mythical and its influence (yet both total commercial flops) on the last four decades of alternative guitar rock is as vast as the music itself was unprecedented. Despite years of imitators and bad onscreen portrayals (in punk-era fictionalized movies), nobody really sounds like Television. The ringing, droning guitars with Billy Ficca’s jazzed up drums and Tom Verlaine’s strangled whine—this is something that most people still have never heard coming from a stage. And though its members, as famous for their feuding as for their playing, are all AARP-eligible, Television’s performance was invigorating and electrifying.
As for the songs, what can be said of “Venus de Milo,” “Prove It,” the world-changing “Marquee Moon” and the heart-destroying “Guiding Light” that hasn’t been repeated for 40 years? Yet, the band’s casual affability lent itself to the hymn-like nature of the performance and soon the whole show began to feel like a religious service. Excluding the encore of “Friction,” the set closed with the title track of that epochal ’77 debut album. By the time Verlaine’s famous extended guitar break built into the song’s pounding climax, it sounded like a skyscraper was being constructed. And the following quiet section was wondrous and incandescent, the equivalent of countless buzzing fireflies scattering, and not unlike the lightning Television itself unleashed into the world.