Television graced House of Vans on October 8 with a four-song setlist played over the course of an hour, spanning improvisation, free jazz, no wave and a little rock ‘n’ roll. The songs rolled and swelled, expanded and contracted, and held the attention of much of the cavernous warehouse for the duration of the set.
The ensemble entered the stage to little fanfare, as Verlaine donned his guitar and began to move his fingers over the fretboard, issuing a melodic drone that served to pull the band together, focus the audience and raise some initial energy, before pulling it back down and moving into “Prove It” from 1977’s Marquee Moon. This was greeted by a tangible acknowledgement from the crowd, as they shouted the refrain on the chorus along with Verlaine.
There was a short break while Verlaine tuned, before the next melody line shifted into the unmistakable monochromatic three-note descending line that opens “Little Johnny Jewel.” The band presented both Parts 1 and 2, representing the contrast in energy and intensity between them, Part 1 sparse, Part 2 melodic, with a great chromatic surge ending the song. “Guiding Light” was instrumentally impressive, extended and complex, and only marred by the fact that the vocals were largely inaudible, which is unfortunate as they’re a major component of the song.
But the undeniable highlight of the set would be the last number, “Persia,” a newer composition written around 2002-3, a pulsing, rhythmic exploration lasting close to 20 minutes, to which each member of the band contributed in equal strength. Fred Smith’s rock solid bassline was as critical to the melody as Verlaine and Rip’s guitar wizardry, giving them a foundation they could count on. At the same time, drummer Billy Ficca marched alongside him, but also had his moments where he would break out, adding accents and arrhythmia. And then, of course, the part of the show that everyone was there to see, the dueling guitar lines between Verlaine and Rip, Rip sometimes dropping back to be part of the rhythm section while Verlaine did battle, then Verlaine dropping back, shaking out his fretboard hand while Rip took the lead. It was rolling and extended and blissful, but yet totally in control: a roadie signaled “5” to the band at one point, and Verlaine took the band through one more crescendo before bringing the song to a close at precisely 11:01 p.m.
It is remarkable that in 2015, you have the opportunity to watch Tom Verlaine, Billy Ficca and Fred Smith playing together onstage, executing their material with craft and skill. Jimmy Rip, who took the place of the ailing RIchard Lloyd in 2004, ably executes Lloyd’s work with appropriate energy and intent, although he does not challenge Verlaine in quite the same way Lloyd did. But there is meaning to the fact that three of the four original members of Television are playing music together 40 years later, with integrity and intent.