With a slow, melodic waltz, 1970s prog-rock, proto-punk pioneers Television opened their set at the TLA on Monday night. Tuning their instruments for a few moments before the packed house - as they would prior to every song - they underscored the jam-session feel they somehow managed to instill within their precise music.
The audience got a genre-expanding rock recital, a two-hour set presented as a testament to the heights guitarists Tom Verlaine and Jimmy Rip (he replaced Richard Lloyd in 2007) could reach as they played foil for each other, their ever-changing synergy elevated and rounded out by Billy Ficca's drumming, which combined a jazz aesthetic with emphatic punctuation. The great strength of the set was the band's evident belief in the music, so persuasive that it rendered irrelevant the few times change stood out in Verlaine's vocals.
Soft, repeating notes from Verlaine on the opener - "Prove It," from his band's seminal 1977 debut Marquee Moon - was backed by delicate stick work from Ficca, and the subtlest overlap from Rip before things shifted, as they always do with Television, to rising and descending guitars that do away with any notion of lead and rhythm.
"I don't think we've been here in a zillion years," Verlaine coolly said after the challenge implied by "Prove It."
On their third song in, "Elevation," another track from Marquee Moon, a trilling, two-note stutter, backed by a drifting melody, gave way to thumping drums followed by crashing cymbals on the chorus. In atmospheric ebbs and flows, the guitar interplay drifted off before Rip grounded us firmly in the moment with a hard-rock edge.
At times, the heavier chords and inflections were handled by Rip, as Verlaine plied more reflective notes, running from distant wails to near points of light. Verlaine's work in the guitar's highest registers could make you think, if you closed your eyes, that he had switched to the violin, playing with the skill of an Andrew Bird.
"They have never been about going through the motions of a nostalgia trip," noted Chris Forsyth, a local experimental guitarist who studied with Lloyd. "They are more like jazz musicians, finding new angles in the songs and creating new music on stage."
With "Venus (De Milo)," a cinematic opening transitioned into a bit of 1950s shoe-gaze. In "Torn Curtain," Verlaine's voice, initially Leonard Cohenesque, beautifully met the weight of the lyrics, getting his best vocal support of the night as his bandmates harmonized on the words years and tears.