photo courtesy of Drake LeLane
October 4, 2006 at The Showbox
Stage left, there is a slightly overweight man holding a guitar, chest-hair creeping from his worn V-neck. He has an afro that’s at least a foot high and a voice that may be two octaves higher than my personal falsetto range. Stage right – often stepping back to the amp to hit some more feedback into his guitar – is a fellow with shortly cropped yellow hair, yellow Bono-ish glasses and a very form-fitting black shirt made out of something like Spandex. He doesn’t just “play” guitar; he strums it with methodical insanity, as if the fate of the world depends on it. The bassist/keyboardist is strangely cut-off from the stage, hanging out at the far back left, glancing off every so often in the direction of the drummer. I’m not so sure the band even knows he’s there.
For a band with a pigeon-hole-defying sound, Brooklyn’s TV on the Radio’s live performance goes even further to separate them from other rock acts out there. In front of a noticeably sold out show at the Showbox in downtown Seattle, TV on the Radio conjured up large waves of sounds both manmade and electronic and basically lambasted the audience with them. The epic-sized guitar was due to the programmer slash guitarist David Andrew Sitek, and his aforementioned manic strumming. I mean seriously, I have never in my life seen a guitar player so fixated on the strum; and just when you thought he was reaching critical mass, he’d bring that fretboard up to its intended phallic position – extended vertically from the crotch – and kick it up another notch.
Pre-recorded sounds are subtly integrated into the band’s sound, allowing them to stay true to the record while providing a certified human rock show. “I Was a Lover” sounds especially great, with the drummer working hand-in-robotic-hand with Sitek’s noises. But the real star of the show is singer Tunde Adebimpe, who loops some beatboxing and whistles to kick off the first song, “Dirty Whilwind”. While the band can be spacey and atmospheric at times, it’s Adebimpe’s vocals keeping them strongly moored to the rawness of a less technological time. On “Dirty Whirlwind” it’s a folk chant with beautiful rhythmic phrasing; on “Dreams” it’s the incredible way he transfers energy between the sadness of the verse and the hesitancy of the chorus before absolutely rocketing through the alliterating bridge. There are some motionless Seattleites at the Showbox, but not a lot.
Highlights for me are versions of “Wolf Like Me” and “The Wrong Way”, both songs bringing crowd energy to its crest. While the former track is great through headphones, it takes the stage show to really feel that slow-down section: the way the crowd lulls into a smiling anticipation of the coming return to verse. For “The Wrong Way” they step up the speed from CD version; a high speed collision of rock and gospel. And when Adebimpe sings the second stanza: “When I realized where I was/ did I stand up and testify’ oh, fist up signify/ or did I show off my soft shoe/ maybe teach ‘em a boogaloo/ busy playin the whore”, I get this feeling in my gut that has something to do with the crazy jumping of the crowd but mostly to with Adebimpe’s cathartic delivery of some very powerful words. And of course, Sitek’s strumming doesn’t hurt anything.
– Scott Roots