Whether leading the legendary
CBGB-era outfit Television or going solo, Tom Verlaine has always seemed the most reluctant of rock stars. He’s a guitar god who favors exploration and odd timbres over ax wankery, a singer who mutters, a frontman who shuns the spotlight.
Yet there he was, all smiles Monday night at the Paradise as a revamped and stunningly confident Television played one of the tightest, strongest sets this longtime fan has seen. Tom Verlaine is happy! Surely the end times are upon us.
The secret, perhaps, is that the band’s “new” second guitarist Jimmy Rip — Verlaine’s solo foil for decades but only part of the group proper since 2007 — has finally exorcised the ghost of Richard Lloyd, the original Television member whose relationship with his majordomo was always spiked with rivalry and weird vibes. Verlaine seemed relieved to dispense with the head games: If Rip’s playing lacks Lloyd’s molten lyricism, he’s an inventive soloist and a consummate professional, and the long, modal two-guitar freakouts that always separated this group from their punk peers — and that ensured they’d remain a cult band and a critics’ favorite — are in good hands. All four of them.
Well-rehearsed and angst-free, Television spent the 90-minute set rummaging playfully through its back catalog. The band touched on longtime concert staples (“Prove It,” “Venus de Milo,” “Little Johnny Jewel”) and unexpected treats (”Guiding Light” from 1978’s “Adventure”; the unrecorded early-’70s rarity “I’m Gonna Find You,” which sounded like a lost James Brown ballad). Verlaine sang his cryptic lyrics with rare clarity and power, and if he delegated much of the early soloing to Rip, his gift for elegant, astringent noise eventually burst free.
Bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca are still this band’s power source, and Ficca especially got to shine on “Persia,” the orientalist jam that Television has been playing for years in concert but still hasn’t gotten around to recording. (Rumors of a new release remain just that, although the band has more than enough material.)
The audience consisted of the usual contingent of graying late-period boomers but also an inordinate number of under-30s, remarkable given that Television hasn’t released a studio album since 1992, and proof of the band’s growing status as uncategorizable alt-rock founding fathers. The new fans were rewarded with a version of Television’s best-known song, the epic “Marquee Moon,” that kept every promise this idiosyncratic band has ever made, Verlaine’s spidery fingers bouncing up and down the fretboard as he conjured groans, wails, sirens, and church bells. No one has ever sounded like him, and no one ever will.Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.