Review: TV on the Radio at SnowBall Music Festival, 03/03/12


The early part of TV on the Radio's set seemed unbalanced. The band's signature quiet moments -- interludes of whistling or whines of guitar feedback -- were often interrupted by sound bleeding over from two nearby stages, the Heat Hut and the Ballroom. There was energy, and plenty of it blasting out from TV on the Radio's set, but it lacked cohesion initially. Where vocals float above the clatter of instruments in the studio recordings, during the first few songs on stage, frontman Tunde Adebimpe's voice became lost amidst the guitar tones, which, along with the drums, seemed to dominate the audio mix early on. The sum of the parts wasn't greater than the pieces, but it didn't take long for everything to click.

After the fourth or fifth song, whatever cosmic or sonic force had kept their sound from clicking had realigned and the show kicked into the next gear. Suddenly, the sound was cohesive and nuanced; the layers all fit together, angular poly-rhythmic drums rinsed by a stream of guitar distortion and vocal modulation. "Sweet people of Vail, Colorado, lend me your ears," requested Adebimpe. The crowd complied and the band did not let them down.

With a Phil Specter-ish wall of sound coming from the guitars, blasts of trombone and occasional falsetto crooning of Adebimpe, TV on the Radio's dystopian funk sounded like the Stooges, the New Power Generation and a smattering of Frank Zappa as played by Godspeed You Black Emperor. The band plays faster live than it does on record. Some moments that seem somber or introspective on record have a harder edge in person. The crowd was still frozen in place, sucked up into a trance of psychedelic waves of rock, rather than simply cold.

The most striking thing about the show was seeing how quickly the band can change gears. One minute, there was shredding guitar and fire-y bursts of red lights on stage, and then there was only a droning, organ-like synth line and steady rhythm of jingling sleigh bells.

"This is a song about darkness divided by light," Tunde told us. That could sum up the description of the act's live show -- layers of sounds slowly building upon themselves, becoming giant and powerful before crashing back down into the darkness of silence. It's powerful. Any doubts lingering from the earlier portion of the show had been sufficiently addressed.

The starscape framing the stage frenetically flashed red, blue and green as the sound built to an equal frenzy. During a full-octane version of "Wolf Like Me," Adebimpe worked his away around the stage with a stutter step, a freeze and before hopping up back into the center. And suddenly the song crashed into a whine of slowly dissipating feedback. The rapt crowd showed their appreciation. "It's been a lovely time. We'll see you guys soon," and with that, the band closed out their set.


Personal Bias: I really enjoyed TVOTR's first three albums, but have been less engaged by the cleaner, simpler arrangements on Nine Types of Light. The band put on a great show regardless.

By the Way: If you have to stand outside for several hours, there's a huge difference in temperature between Friday night's low of seven degrees, and Saturday's relatively balmy low of nineteen degrees. I can still feel my toes for the most part, which is nice.

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