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Live Review and Photos: TV On The Radio, May 11, 2011, The Music Box – Los Angeles, CA


It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. The release of the new TV On The Radio album, Nine Types Of Light, was supposed to be a joyous time that saw the band reach new heights of commercial appeal while reclaiming their place as creative torchbearers in the indie community. But, with the tragic loss of bassist Gerard Smith to lung cancer eight days after the album’s release, the release of the Brooklyn band’s fifth record has been clouded in sadness, for the artists and fans alike. A casual observer wouldn’t have noticed, though. Kyp Malone at one point poured some of his drink onto the ground, a possible nod to Smith. Otherwise, the only mention of the fallen bandmate was during band introductions, which concluded with Malone stating that “Gerard Smith is no longer with us,” an ambiguous statement for people not in the know, but a poignantly sad one for the rest of us, who couldn’t help but notice Tunde Adebimpe’s head sink with the words.

Despite the circumstances, TV On The Radio were ready to get down to business. This short West Coast excursion to make up a series of dates from a couple weeks earlier is likely not how the band envisioned this time, but they seemed determined to make the most of it, offering a 75-minute set that leaned heavily on older, up-tempo material and played to the crowd’s expectations. I’m not going to draw any conclusions like “this is what Gerard Smith would have wanted” or “the musicians are coping through what clearly makes them happy.” In all honesty, I have no idea what they are going through or what their state of mind is. I can, however, comment on the show, and how they seemed just as vibrant and boisterous and playful as ever.

After an opening set from IO Echo, TV On The Radio took to the stage and went right into Dear Science opener “Halfway Home.” Adebimpe manned some sort of effects machine for this and many of the songs, cutting down on his trademark jumping and sliding across the stage. That is not to say he didn’t do this plenty. Most notably, the climactic moment of “Staring At The Sun,” after the second chorus, saw Adebimpe overcome by the music and start leaping to the drumbeat, with a vast majority of the audience following suit. Another rocker, “The Wrong Way,” saw the singer begin the song in his stationary position and eventually abandon it to get to the edge of the stage and connect with the audience.

As mentioned, the setlist drew primarily from older material. Multiple cuts from the Young Liars EP and Desperate Youth, Blood Thirty Babes were welcome surprises, as was the fact that the most well-represented album was their masterpiece, Return To Cookie Mountain. “Blues From Down Here” still might be their finest recorded moment and it is a joy to see it still remembered in the setlist. Tried and true crowd-pleasers “Wolf Like Me,” “Province,” and “Staring At The Sun,” are all homerun live numbers, with the band seeming to never want to play the same song, the same way, twice. Whether it is pre-song whistling interludes or either Kyp Malone or David Sitek facing their amplifiers to noisy-up the number, their songs, for better or worse, take on new life when performed live. Sometimes it can come across messy, but often the energy of watching these pros entertain themselves and emotionally invest themselves in their longtime tunes is a joy, to say the least.

Of course, it would have been nice to hear more than three songs from their new album. But, there also weren’t really songs I would want to sacrifice for them. This begs the realization that, though this was a smaller show at a 1,300 person capacity theater, TV On The Radio are getting to the point where their live show demands 90 minutes or two hours. They certainly have the back catalog to warrant a longer show and I don’t doubt that they have the energy to pull it off. It will be interesting to see in the coming months, as the venues for TV On The Radio reach their largest size yet, whether the band will graduate to that “big-band headliner” set length that their history and fan-base seem to justify. But, no matter what, “Young Liars” should be played every time these guys take the stage. When played live, this song swells to a greater level than any of their other material, almost elevating the band to unrealized heights, forcing audience member to wag their hands with emotion in a similar way that Adebimpe does.

For their encore, the band returned to the stage and knocked-out a remarkable version of “A Method,” with Adebimpe commandeering a cymbal from Jaleel Bunton’s kit and Kyp Malone ditching his guitar for some shakers. The number was the most together I have ever witnessed the band on stage, with the two singers wailing out their harmonies with the intimacy of a living room performance, rather than a concert hall, all be it a small one. Ultimately, it served as a reminder that TV On The Radio’s days of playing intimate shows is coming to an end and will probably be a rarity in the future, and whether it remains the ideal situation to see the band remains to be seen. What I do know is that the band was successfully able to distance themselves from their surrounding sadness and put on an uplifting and exciting rock show. If any band deserves the success they are receiving, it is this one.

Setlist:

Halfway Home
Caffeinated Consciousness
The Wrong Way
Blues From Down Here
Will Do
Province
Red Dress
Dreams
Young Liars
Staring At The Sun
Repetition
Wolf Like Me

A Method
DLZ
Satellite


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