Kings of NY (TV on the Radio portrait by Grant Siedlecki)
TV on the Radio + Matt Pond PA + Voxtrot
Prospect Park Bandshell
June 30, 2006
Prospect Park might be the most insanely pleasant place in New York City: trees and rolling hills everywhere, hidden nooks and crannies, paddle-boats, a mini-zoo way better than the one in Central Park except no polar bears, a motherfucking swimming hole for dogs. It follows, then, that Prospect Park’s Celebrate Brooklyn concert series, judging by Friday night’s show, puts on maybe the single most enjoyable live-music experience anywhere in the city, one that makes every other free-concert series going seem way too expensive. The fenced-off bandshell area is huge, big enough to accommodate whatever crowds might show up and still give everyone room to breathe and move around. There’s a huge copse of trees in the middle of the field, but it doesn’t obscure sightlines so much as provide shade. People bring in beach-chairs and blankets, families show up with kids, the beer isn’t even all that expensive, and everyone stands on actual grass instead of the weird white-plastic sheets that the Central Park Summerstage people put down. And because everything is so refreshingly laid-back and free of hassle, a lot of people inevitably show up, many of whom probably wouldn’t ordinarily give a damn about whatever band might be playing. And so the venue offers bands an opportunity to step their game up and to give a career-defining performance, something they’ll be remembered for. Maybe that’s why Prince decided to show up and hijack Maceo Parker’s performance last month in a show I can’t fucking believe I was dumb enough to miss. And maybe that’s why TV on the Radio put on one of the best shows I’ve seen all year on Friday night.
Honestly, the band didn’t even have to be great. The vibe at the bandshell was nice enough that even the two utterly garbage opening bands, Voxtrot (bippity-boppity early-90s happy-fuzzpop) and Matt Pond PA (the same thing but slower and with a cello), became tolerable. Before TVOTR came it, it looked like the sky was about to open up, but nothing happened beyond a few stray raindrops. So everyone would’ve been happy whatever the band did. They didn’t have to unleash a furious cloud of righteous fury on us, but they did it anyway. TVOTR has always been messy and intense live; the first time was the last night of their Young Liars tour, they were drunk and high, they didn’t come onstage until about 3 a.m. on a Wednesday night, there couldn’t have been more than 150 people there, and they still absolutely tore it down. At Prospect Park, they expanded the band to fit the venue, bringing out three backup singers and the horn section and percussionist from Antibalas to flesh their compositions out, not that they needed it. If anything, they sounded too big for the venue, their hazy, monolithic guitars echoing off the hills and the treetops. Everyone but Tunde Adebimpe stood stock-still, so it was up to Adebimpe to hold the stage by himself, but he’s got enough presence and energy that he didn’t need any help. But the whole band stepped up musically; Kyp Malone even took it easy on the falsetto for once. The show could’ve peaked early with the epic and triumphant rendition of “Young Liars,” still the best song they’ve written, with horns blasting and Dave Sitek banging on his guitar with a drumstick. But they managed to top that with their encore, playing one song entirely on voice and percussion before ending with a frantically bugged-out version of “Satellite.”
Return to Cookie Mountain, the new TVOTR album, has been finished for a while, but I have no idea when it’s going to finally come out; they’re not the first band to get dicked around by the Interscope release-date shuffle. It’s more focused and confident than Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, but both of TVOTR’s albums have been more languid and pillowy than I’d like, more concerned with abstract sprawl than sweeping stomp. For my money, nothing the band has recorded quite matches up with the charge of their first EP. But onstage, they’re basically unparalleled. Last night, I saw the Boredoms give a performance that rivaled TVOTR for trippy intensity. The difference, though, is that the Boredoms did it with three drummers and synth squeaks and wordless singing and half-hour songs that mutated from drum-circle bang-alongs to mutant house to Bollywood opuses. It’s rarified stuff, and you aren’t going to see steakheads in white baseball caps botching high-fives to it. TVOTR has the same force and majesty, but they do it in a big-rock context, and right now, they’re the only indie-rock band in New York that can actually bring hordes of people together. Both TVOTR and the Boredoms are doing powerful things. But TVOTR has found a way to invite people in without watering their thing down or pandering to anyone, and from where I’m sitting, that makes their achievement even more valuable.
Voice feature: Jon Caramanica on TV on the Radio
Voice review: Jen Aswad on TV on the Radio’s Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes