American punk innovators Television stopped at the Commodore Ballroom last Thursday on their way to Sled Island. Vancouver’s Skye Wallace opened, making for an odd pairing: Television changed the course of punk by incorporating jazz-inspired technical proficiency and high-gloss production, all as a twist on the 60s-to-mid-70s rock that just preceded them. Wallace, on the other hand, weaves rich narratives over foggy mini-folk-anthems. Her songs are at once haunting and at other times triumphant.
So Wallace was tasked with ingratiating herself with a crowd of punks and ex-punks hungry to see the venerated CBGB holdovers. Tougher yet, this was her first solo show in, she estimated, three years.
Armed with only an acoustic guitar, Wallace valiantly galloped through songs including the wayfaring “Carry Our Son”, the shanty-esque “Middle Class Ontario”, and the dusty equestrian trot, “Ain’t It Hell”. She even broke out a cover of Timber Timbre’s “Lay Down in the Tall Grass” and, if I heard correctly, a new song inspired by horror films.
The crowd chattered loudly, giving the impression that they weren’t completely thrilled about the acoustic offering before the tightly wound, spiraling electric guitars that awaited them. But the applause that followed almost every one of Wallace’s songs suggested otherwise. Perhaps the pairing would have been less awkward had her band been present, but despite the incongruous match, she held her own well enough.
Unsurprisingly, Television derived most of their set from their landmark 1977 album, Marquee Moon. Although, rather than launch right into their most beloved intertwining riffs, they allowed fans’ excitement to unfurl with the late-late-discography cut, “1880 Or So”. The guitar solo in this first song alone, pulled off by Jimmy Rip, got the crowd absolutely roaring.
Television treated almost every song with extended solos; Rip’s and singer/wordsmith Tom Verlaine’s guitar interplay seemed even more complex up close, live. Along with the “Elevation”s and the “Friction”s of the night were the unhurried classic “Guiding Light” and Adventure lead-off “Glory”. “Prove It” had fans shouting, “PROVE IT! JUST THE FACTS! THE CONFIDENTIAL!” louder than Verlaine.
Of course, Television played the cornerstone song from their cornerstone album, Marquee Moon‘s 10-minute title-track. Realistically, the entire night built to this moment. And the smooth, organically developing opus would have been enough to send fans home satisfied, but the band returned after a short breather with one last number, the song that is quintessentially Television, “See No Evil”.
Word of a new album has been swirling for as long as a year-and-a-half now, so it’s promising to see Television still in top form.