[17 November 2008]
Let me start by saying that TV on the Radio’s Dear Science is one of my top five records of the year. From top to bottom, it’s a perfect balance of dance rhythms and disquieting candor. Having caught them on their last tour and listened to them heavily ever since, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is their most consistently enjoyable collection of songs to date.
Now, with that out of the way, let me move on to say that this show at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple was a fairly disappointing experience. As badly as I wanted to rush home to my roommates and gloat—face melted—that TV on the Radio had pulled out another electrifying performance, the best I could muster was to say that “Dancing Choose” was pretty sweet and that I saw two of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (not Karen O) up in the balcony.
For whatever reason, the band’s set was riddled with mix-related problems all evening. One would think that on the last night of a three-night stand the sound guys would’ve figured out how to get a good vocal sound or at least a decent guitar level out of Kyp Malone, Tunde Adebimpe, and David Sitek, but this was not the case. The only aspect of the sound thoroughly represented was Jaleel Bunton’s earth shattering drumming, which—as good as it was—effectively destroyed all hope of appreciable musicality.
In spite of this, opener “Young Liars” seethed onstage with the aid of (you guessed it) absurdly loud horns. What’s more, the mere presence of Adebimpe is enough to keep one entertained for prolonged periods of time. Certainly the relentless pogo-ing and arm-flailing is becoming a trademark on par with Thom Yorke’s Kid A-era ecstasy freak-outs, and if there’s a singular element that TV on the Radio is capable of delivering on a regular basis it’s surely charisma. I’m sure that most who attended would agree that even if you couldn’t really hear the vocals on any of the songs, you sure as hell could catch a buzz from the incessant energy coming off Sitek’s perpetually blurry right arm.
Unfortunately, a long slew of Malone’s material would follow—songs like “Crying”, “Stork & Owl”, and “Golden Age”—all of which lacked the primal intensity of Adebimpe’s rockers. What’s upsetting is that Malone’s material often provides the perfect counterbalance to Tunde’s freewheeling style, alternating his impossibly high melodic lines with a croaky baritone capable of injecting both grit and idiosyncrasy when it’s most needed.
It follows, then, with the exception of Return to Cookie Mountain’s already exceptional “Province”, that the night would predominantly rest on the big man’s shoulders. Unsurprisingly, Adebimpe carried his songs off remarkably well in the face of the house sound fiasco (it was unclear as to whether he was aware of it). Kicking off mid-set with a frothing version of “Wolf Like Me”, a veritable mini-suite unfolded with quick transitions into “Dancing Choose” and then “Shout Me Out”. It was easily the most exciting part of the night, with Sitek’s guitar at least visually audible (you work it out), and the rest of the band holding down furious rhythmic duties. Meanwhile the crowd reached an apex of liveliness. From the balcony I espied several bouncy right hands swaying in time to the beat and what might even have been a half-dozen devil’s horns.
Sadly, momentum petered out with a very boring version of Cookie Mountain’s “Blues from Down Here”, which succeeded only in sounding like the last song before the encore, which it was. To be fair—when it arrived—the encore grew increasingly better as it went, culminating in genuine show-closer “Staring at the Sun”, which was genuinely superb. As either a testament to the band’s growing popularity or the building’s completely whacked-out acoustics, I could actually hear the crowd singing the lyrics above the band. Rock and roll! Right?
All in all, it was a night of peaks and troughs. I’ll leave the question of whether or not the band was actually “on” to the hardened vets, but from my own perspective, things could have been much worse (a certain bass-heavy Menomena show at Webster Hall comes to mind). Sitting here after the fact, I’m prompted to think about the Onion’s recent interview with Adebimpe, a piece in which the interviewer noted that one of the recurrent themes of the band’s work has been man’s relationship with science and technology. Considered in this light, perhaps it’s fitting that the myriad gadgets and puzzling speaker boxes constituting the group’s live rig seemed to get the better of them this time out. Hell, maybe these guys even chose a venue with awful sound to deliberately show us how futile our reliance on technology really is. I suppose I could get behind something like that. Then again, I didn’t have to pay for my ticket.