Live: TV On The Radio/The Dirtbombs

TV On The Radio pic #1
TV On The Radio.

HOUSE OF BLUES -- 10/29/08: If it were a dog, the dog would live in a pink leather purse carried around by some actress or another being filmed by TMZ. If it were a color, the color would be in blinking neon on a sign outside a strip club that prides itself as classy. If it were a cereal, it would be warm Grape Nuts eaten by a man late for his tee-time at a country club in River Oaks. If it were a scene from a movie, it would be that scene in Back to the Future II when Marty McFly rides atop his hoverboard that crashes into that huge pile of manure. If it were a word, the word would be monosyllabic.
House of Blues is a goddamn weird place to see a concert.
To its credit, though, the acts the place brings in are fucking fantastic. So I guess I'll take the three flights of stairs and the bowling alley and the $12 valet (valet?) parking and the $7 beer and the "this close to getting to second base with metal detector" people and the overall TGIFridays-ization of the entire place. I just don't think it belongs in Houston. With that said -- TV On The Radio was amazing.
This experimental New York City five-piece has for many years been tabbed as one of those bands that "matters" to indie-rock, a band that so deconstructs what it means culturally to sing about race relations (for what it's worth, the band is comprised of four black guys and one white guy, but that doesn't really matter) and class warfare that they sometimes get lost in the rubble of being overly intellectual. But that would be to marginalize them -- although maybe that's exactly what we should do, because maybe that's what gives TVOTR its significance and signification within the zeitgeist of post-noise rock and roll. Listening to TV On The Radio makes us remember how Animal Collective reminds us of how necessary it is to listen to early Sonic Youth if you feel like you've lost your soul. They are a band who understands that people still find access in the intelligence of the artists they admire, and TVOTR has tons of admirers. House of Blues was, for a Wednesday, packed to the gills with an audience that seemed to be transfixed, every single one.
We were given what I think we all expected: sixteen or so songs that have come to represent the embodiment of what it means to be a band that is constantly evolving for the better (or at least the more interesting). Lead vocalist Tunde Adebimpe, part-time lead vocalist and full-time falsetto Kyp Malone, and the rest of the guys seamlessly weaved their way through what turned out to be an encyclopedic rendering of TVOTR's most fan-friendly songs, going all the back to the OK Calculator (yep, Radiohead reference) days, chock-full of electronic hip-hop and tribal backbeats, on to some of the most memorable moments of the show (particularly "Staring at the Sun," where openers the Dirtbombs joined TVOTR on stage to bang on shit as hard as they could until it made a cool sound), through what was, in my opinion, a shortage of songs from the brilliant Return to Cookie Mountain (the hard stomping "Wolf Like Me" sounded a little too much like MTV2), but when Adepimpe turned "A Method" from guitar-driven fuzz-rock to folk, the entire place was fucking floored. It felt a lot like how spontaneity is actually possible, and that made me say "nice."
The highlights of the show, though, were the songs from TVOTR's new record -- a record that is, until it's not, their opus. It's one of those things that makes you go, "Jesus, this is fucking good." And then not be able to talk for the next half a day. The songs translate beautifully live, particularly (what I think is the best piece of music they've ever recorded, "Dancing Choose." Adebimpe sings, "He's a what, he's a what, he's a newspaper man, and he gets his best ideas from a newspaper stand / From his boots to his pants to his comments and his rants / He knows that any little article will do."
Ahem, don't we all?
"Though he expresses some confusion ‘bout his part in the plan / and he can't understand that he's not in command / The decisions underwritten by the cash in his hand / Bought a sweater for his Weimaraner too."
It's a song about a cocaine-addicted journalist constructing stories for the story, inventing drama for the originality, with no interest in giving readers any semblance of something resembling truth (which is, let's face it, sort of what journalism is in the days of FoxNews and Keith Olbermann -- Keith, you're fucking crazy, dude). The reason TVOTR is "important" in the eyes of critics is the same reason they're popular in the eyes of the non: they bridge the gap between emotion and intellect. "Dancing Choose" is a perfect song in which to study this dichotomy, being a song that is (1) culturally adept and (2) catchy.
TVOTR is doing precisely the thing that bands like The Velvet Underground, Pavement, and Radiohead did; they are making emotion political. Doesn't seem to be such a hard concept to employ, but there are maybe a handful of bands doing these things presently, which is why TV On The Radio is in such an interesting position, one that has the added responsibility of carrying the burden of activism, as it were. They want their art to be used, to be owned by the listener, if only to act as a subversive tool against a machine that doesn't necessarily allow art to have a voice -- the machine of American conformity.
Which is what makes seeing them at House of Blues come to be the very meaning of irony. END