Sunday, April 01, 2007

I Was There: TV on the Radio at the Fonda, 3/31/07

For me, TV on the Radio is one of those bands. For all intents and purposes, you could really just say they are that band. Their music is a truly visceral experience, somehow crystallizing so many personal thoughts, feelings and emotions that are perpetually elusive, impossible to put into simple words. It sounds pretentious I know, but it’s the truth. They turn me into a perpetual 15-year-old obsessive fan, never quite getting enough of "that feeling" their music instills in me.

A lot of it has to do with my history with the band. I won’t bore you with the details, but I will say that I had the honor of writing and securing their first national magazine cover story as well as booking them for a Coachella after-party that same year (when they should have been on the bill – but that’s a whole other story).

The first time I ever saw them play was at the tiny Silverlake Lounge. It was their first ever show in LA, and for the few dozen people in attendance nothing short of magical. Playing in support of their lush debut EP Young Liars, the band's sampler had been smashed in transit from Europe. So they just turned up the guitars and improvised. Noisy? No doubt. In the best way possible.

It’s been three full years since all of that went down, and a lot has changed. TVOTR is no longer the golden boys of indie label Touch and Go, but part of the massive Interscope roster alongside the likes of Pussycat Dolls and Black Eyed Peas. Their two-night stand at the 1200-person capacity Henry Fonda Theatre here in LA has been sold out for weeks, the result of their second album Return to Cookie Mountain residing at or near the top of most notable year-end best-of lists in 2006, and for good reason. But enough ink has been spilled regarding its brilliance, so again I’ll spare you.

Through nothing less than an act of God, a ticket for the second show found its way into my hands on a couple of weeks ago. I’m still not quite sure how it happened, but I’m not questioning it. Just color me extremely grateful.

Standing in line outside the Fonda tonight waiting to get in, Kyp Malone and a girl strolled by, virtually unrecognized by a majority of the people waiting with me. It speaks volumes about the band’s newly expanded audience, as far removed from the original crowd of diehards as possible. Like the three frat boy-types (or "dudebros," as Leslie would call them) standing behind me waiting for them to come on that took turns screaming “TV ON THE RADIO – WOOOOOO!” at the top of their drunken lungs, much to the amusement (OK, try annoyance) of the people around them. One was clutching the dainty hand-printed TVOTR record bag stuffed with t-shirts, all purchased at the merch booth. Say huh? Ah, enough of my prejudices. Dudebros can like good music too, right?

After an impressive set by UK trio the Noisettes, my new frat buddies got their wish. TVOTR came on and started slowly with a soulful version of “Young Liars,” perfectly setting the stage for the many high points to follow. Many of the mellower songs from Cookie Mountain especially shined, like “Wash The Day” and “Dirtywhirl,” with vocalist Tunde Adebimpe riding the beat like a surfer, soaring all over and around the shimmering sounds with unbridled emotion. Even older songs like “Dreams” took on new life tonight, powered by Adebimpe’s endless reserve of energy, shaking and dancing to the music like a man possessed. I notice that the girlfriend of one of the dudebros is singing along to the songs word for word, eyes closed, lost in the sound.

When the band really turned up the heat, the results were nothing less than religious. “Wolf Like Me” roared with a ferocity only hinted at on the album, as did a storming take on “Satellite.” The band seemed particularly inspired, adding even more layers of beauty and noise atop the tunes, creating a gorgeous maelstrom of epic proportions.

They encored with a beat-crazy exploration of “A Method,” utilizing a slew of added percussionists from their backstage crew, including a couple of girls that had stood next to me for most of the set. But it was a monstrous, muscled-up tear through their signature song “Staring at the Sun” that brought it all together: the melody, the passion, the heart and the art.

God bless TV on the Radio. Never lose that feeling.


brunette like me said...

While I have liked, but definitely not lurved, Return to Cookie Mountain, your write up of the show a) has inspired me to give it another chance to captivate me and b) perfectly captured that feeling great live music stirs up in listeners...that undefinable "thing" that keeps me coming back for more shows (and more ticketmaster charges too, but who's counting?) Awesome review.