Shows at Central Park’s SummerStage only get cancelled during thunder and lightening storms, but the rain prior to this show was steady enough to leave the threat of a drown-out looming. Fortunately, the show went on, and TV on the Radio was able to use the dreary, soggy night to accentuate the illuminating energy of its music and performance.
Unfortunately, the Dirty Projectors, who came on first, lacked the same ability to transcend the weather. The band played well, but their light, inventive and curious sound was too refined, and at times too tentative in nature, to push through the rain. The crowd was thin, and everyone held umbrellas a little too politely for a rock concert. Although they failed to rally the hesitant crowd, their set was tight and relatively enthusiastic despite meteorological impediments.
But when TV on the Radio came on, the crowd had filled out, and all umbrellas came down seemingly in unison. Proving to be a force more powerful than the environment, TV on the Radio brought their own storm of sound and light. The enthusiasm, the diversity of sounds, and merging of genres was oddly reminiscent of a carnival—all-inclusive and culturally explosive.
Thanking the crowd for coming out in the rain, Tunde Adebimpe gave a special shout out to his hometown Brooklyn, which the crowd responded to with shouts of “umbrellas down!” TV on the Radio began the set on a slow note with “Love Dog”, emitting a haunting sound in the first few measures that complemented rather than countered the rain. The song sounded like a long, collective moan, but given the already low energy of the crowd, it was a serendipitously ideal way to lure the audience into concert mode. Halfway through the opening number, the crowd was poised to receive.
And the band was equally primed to deliver. Benefiting from a receptive audience that the Dirty Projectors lacked, TV on the Radio opened up the channel for a steady stream of symbiotic enrapture powered by precision, collaboration, and celebration. What was most apparent, and striking, was that the entirely dry band and soaked crowd shared an equal desire to engage and were able to meet each other halfway. The mood changed quickly with “The Wrong Way”; the speed and aggression of the music got the crowd moving.
Part of the crowd’s willingness to participate came from TV on the Radio’s distinct ability to put on a show rather than just play songs. Most songs benefited from elements that distinguished them from their album versions. “Halfway Home” was far more like a tribal anthem than the Bloc Party-esque version found on Dear Science. Many of the songs came out with a sound aimed at rallying the crowd and the collaborative community created by the performers onstage spilled into the audience.
The aspects of the show blended so well because each performer was able to share in the making of the music while holding closely to his individual style. Not to be ignored is Tunde Adebimpe’s unusually ecstatic dancing, evocative and intricate as the music itself. Jumping from hip swivels that rivaled Elvis, to moon walking like Michael Jackson and air punching like the world’s most emphatic sports fan, his dancing not only complemented the music it bolstered the show’s climb towards being a consumptively aesthetic and sensual experience.
Another contributing factor was the staging itself. The concert was part light show, with a bright blue and red glow rolling over the stage that was reflected by the continual fog. The backdrop for the stage was a dynamic but dark patchwork quilt made psychedelic by colored floodlights. Like the music, contrasts in the set design created an aura of all inclusiveness rather than division.
As did the horn section touring with TV on the Radio. The stage acquired the essence of a true ensemble. Both the strong sounds and gleeful attitudes of the horn players added to a textured performance; in particular songs like “Dancing Choose” and “Crying” saturated the stage and incited the crowd. But in some senses, each band member gave an individualized performance; “The Wrong Way” was frenzied, hyper, and had an improvisational quality.
Adebimpe channeled a playful intensity that made each song both intimate and unstoppable. Unfortunately, the mic caused problems during the show and was one element that impeded the cohesiveness. Throughout the show, the vocals seemed a bit dim, perhaps because the microphone was grounded, and Adebimpe was wildly in motion.
In “A Method”, the final song of the encore, the vocals went out completely. It coincided with Dave Sitek’s first venture downstage playing the drums, and a casual shifting of the dynamic on stage that signified a natural end. Several extras had filtered onto the stage, including a small child, and the show trickled to an end just as the rain had a few minutes earlier. But it seemed that the power of the performance was not spent but rather transferred to the audience, who re-entered the city drenched but radiant.