TV on the Radio Sunday, November 2 Ogden Theater Better Than: The band’s rushed, abbreviated set at Monolith (which wasn’t really the band’s fault).
Detroit riff-rock veterans the Dirtbombs opened last night’s show at the Ogden. I was a bit disappointed to see that their two-drummer setup didn’t really add much to their sound; drummers Ben Blackwell and Pat Pantano played similar parts most of the time, and Pantano seemed a bit undermiked, so they didn’t seem especially powerful, either. That aside, singer/guitarist Mick Collins led his band through a set of songs that allowed them to display their clear pleasure at simply rocking out, and rocking out hard, in a good old-fashioned sort of way, with behind-the-head guitar solos and a bassist standing on a drumset.
The teardown was by far the most entertaining part of the Dirtbombs’ set. Collins and bassists Ko Melina and Zachary Wheedon finished playing and started packing up while Blackwell and Pantano kept playing; Blackwell took his floor tom onto the floor and played in the middle of the audience for a bit before literally throwing it back on stage. After bandmembers took Blackwell’s kit away, he went and drummed on Pantano’s; the other bandmembers took Pantano’s kit away piece by piece and yet the drummers kept going, right up until there was nothing left on which to drum. It was a pretty great intro to what would be a percussion-heavy evening.
One of the biggest reasons that TV on the Radio stands out so much from most of the rest of its avant-rock peers is that the band’s pleasures are so elemental; at its core, the band’s sound is all about vocals and percussion, the two most primal musical instincts. Drummer Jaleel Bunton’s beats sometimes pulse, sometimes slink and sometimes pummel, but they’re never less than central to the band’s songs. And whatever his contributions in the studio may be, there’s a reason Dave Sitek mostly just stands in the back and strums the guitar when the band performs; twin vocalists Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone have some of the best pipes in the rock world right now, and they’re the stars of the live show.
The band opened with “Young Liars” and made its way through the main set mostly by simply playing its songs well and energetically—and when the songs are as good as the ones the band has created over the course of three albums (all of which were represented, though the set predictably borrowed most heavily from this year’s Dear Science), that’s usually good enough. The highlights of the main set had to be “Stork and Owl,” which is one of the band’s best showcases yet for Malone, whose versatile and musical voice serves as such a perfect foil to Adebimpe’s blunter instrument; and “Wolf Like Me,” which allowed Adebimpe to go all out at his most manic and declamatory. The band also made excellent use throughout of touring woodwind player Martin Perna, who was clearly having a ball the entire time, dancing with his saxophones, unable to wipe a grin off his face. It’s about damn time that TV on the Radio brought a horn player on tour.
If the main set was excellent but relatively lacking in surprises, well, it turned out that the band was just saving its best stuff for the encore. After the band played the haunting “Love Dog,” crewmembers started bringing out extra percussion, Malone called the Dirtbombs back on stage, and anybody who’d seen TV on the Radio before knew what came next: Aw yeah, time for some Cookie Mountain-style drum circlin’. I wasn’t sure at first why Sitek would pour a bottle of water on to the head of a floor tom, but in the middle of “Method,” at the point where all the extra percussion comes in, he and a Dirtbomb — I forget which — started pounding the shit out of their toms, and the water flew everywhere. It looked awesome. Adebimpe invited the crowd to yell along to “Let the Devil In,” and Malone even distributed sleigh bells to a couple lucky fans. As the eleven people on stage — including TV on the Radio’s tour manager, whose birthday, Malone informed us, was last night — pummeled and bellowed through “Devil,” I remembered that when it comes down to it, nothing in this world beats banging on a drum and yelling, and TV on the Radio clearly understand that as well as just about any band out there right now.
The Dirtbombs left the stage and TV on the Radio closed with “Staring at the Sun,” and while I was disappointed — really disappointed — that the band never played “Crying,” I was still grateful to see one of America’s top acts at the peak of its form. Give it one more album as superlative as Dear Science, and TV on the Radio could blow up to near-Radiohead levels; if you missed the band last night and you get a chance, see it now before you’re stuck seeing it at amphitheaters.
-- Kyle Smith
Personal Bias: Is it bias to be able to recognize genius? Yeah, I think TV on the Radio is phenomenal, and I thought so before last night. Who’s going to argue with me? Random Detail: Woodwind player Perna — who played a bit of clarinet and flute in addition to tenor and baritone saxophones — is a member of Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. By The Way: Topic for discussion: Why, after all these years, are there still so few rock bands fronted by black guys? Last night happened to feature two, but I can’t really think of any others, at least not that are still working.