TV on the Radio

[20 July 2008]

By Louis Battaglia

For many TV on the Radio fans, the hope of catching this innovative, boundary-pushing group in concert has remained unrealized. Despite the revered status of their mind-blowing studio efforts, the group has toured very little to support their latest releases. While on paper, 2007’s Live at Amoeba Music EP seemed perfectly conceived to help alleviate their lack of live appearances, the EP was in fact woefully short, bland, and somewhat disappointing. For those that had not seen the group live, the EP ultimately lent credence to any postulations that perhaps TVOTR experienced significant difficulty when attempting to translate their dense and complicated production style to the stage, which would then account for their lack of touring.

It’s understandable then, that the prospect of a TVOTR tour (however abbreviated it might turn out to be) loomed large on the horizon for the band’s many fans when it was announced a few months ago. Considering that their last studio album, Return to Cookie Mountain, was released two full years ago, it was not unreasonable for many to consider that this tour might just be a forum for the band to premier new material. An assumption prevailed for many, however, that road trips to the nearest major city or some out-of-the-way festival would be necessary to catch the band’s live act. So when a brief tour was eventually announced that only consisted of several stop-offs in the major Canadian cities of the northeast and a handful of shows in the American Pacific northwest, along with two west coast festival appearances, the worst fears of the majority of North American TVOTR fans were all but confirmed.

Except, that is, for those in the small, perennially skipped over city of Buffalo, New York. While most TVOTR fans were lamenting that another summer was going to go by without the band conducting a proper, continental crisscrossing tour that hit every conceivable stop on the way, the inhabitants of this small rust-belt city had not only snagged an indie act of significance, but one that most other people were perhaps going to miss out on. It is probably not possible for you to imagine the enthusiasm and utter excitement that Buffalo’s live music fans felt when TVOTR announced that one of their very few engagements would be on a Monday night at Buffalo’s own Town Ballroom, a small intimate bar/theater, right in the center of this rust belt’s vacuous downtown. 

When that night finally came, the scale of enthusiasm was clear from the scene within the Ballroom. Within an hour of opening its doors at 7 pm, and by the start of opening act Vivian Girls’ set, the venue was packed with eager Buffalonians of all shapes, sizes, and ages. They all seemed to be staring in disbelief at the many fellow TVOTR fans as if asking themselves the same question: If this many people from around here are into this band, why in the hell don’t I know any of them?

This strong showing of support augmented the thick aura of anticipation that permeated throughout the buzzing throng. Indie chicks bounced all around the floor, bobbing and weaving in-between a thick contingent of hardcore (mostly male, twenty-something) fans that had secured their place of worship at the front of the stage before the clock had even struck 7:01 pm. The Ballroom’s other prime real estate, the three stadium-style rows that stacked up behind the dance floor, was clogged with a teeming mixture of young professionals, middle age onlookers, and non-drinking age newbies. Overall, the confluence of these disparate demographics perfectly displayed the appeal of TVOTR’s wide ranging sound that draws from a complex variety of sonic wells.

This in turn seemed to answer why no one knew anyone else.   

While the band’s crew set up the stage, the Ballroom’s PA blasted crappy Stone’s song that only ignited the crowd to applaud and cheer at the end of each successive track; partly in hope that this was when the band would finally take the stage, and partly because the crusty music of the Stones just seems so damn irrelevant when you are about to see TVOTR.

At 9:30 pm, when the band finally emerged from the backstage darkness, the audience unfurled a roar that spoke volumes to the Buffalo crowd’s appreciation for the exact moment in time when one of the coolest bands on earth was finally taking the stage in its very own city. The band reciprocated by kicking the night off with a raunchy, throbbing, impassioned version of “Young Liars” that immediately erased doubts about their live prowess. 

Over the next 75 minutes, TVOTR blasted through songs, old and new, in such a way that the stability of the Ballroom seemed to be coming apart at the seams. It was so loud that verbal communication between audience members was impossible. During “Wolf Like Me” all communication took on the form of exaggerated hand gestures, bizarre facial expressions, and ridiculous body movements, that, despite their variety, seemed to say the same thing—“Can you believe this? This is awesome!”

It was a performance that defied expectations. Listening to this band’s records leads one to believe that an army of additional musicians beyond the five band members is required to bring this music to life on stage. But in fact, the band’s core—vocalist Tunde Adebimpe, guitarist/vocalist Kyp Malone, guitarist Dave Sitek, bass/keyboard player Gerard Smith, and drummer Jaleel Bunton— managed just fine on their own to pump out soulful, stripped-down visceral renditions of their songs that were faithful to the studio versions, but worked well enough on stage to steamroll right over the crowd. 

And so it went; Sitek dragging the wind chimes that hung from the neck of his guitar across Bunton’s crash cymbals; Malone unleashing searing sheets of sound from his insanely warped Les Paul; Adebimpe shimmying across the stage and screeching into the microphone as if he was some kind of Brooklyn banshee. The passage of time seemed to crawl to a standstill. With TVOTR in town, blasting out new material alongside intense versions of “I Was a Lover” and “Wash the Day Away”, Buffalo, for a brief night, was the center of the universe.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/tv-on-the-radio/