Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Live Review: TV on the Radio - March 17th

Thanks to the lovely Jill McKeever for the photos

If you were not aware just by reading the date, the TV on the Radio show was on St. Patrick's Day. And if you are not a native of Kansas City, or have not traveled to the city to revel in the yearly debauchery, you are probably unaware that Kansas Cityians treat St. Patrick's Day like others treat Mardis Gras. Oh, and it was a Saturday too.

At first I was pretty convinced that this would have little affect on the actual concert. TV on the Radio surely wouldn't attract a throng of drunken frat boys, sorority girls, and older men and women who are partying like they're back in the frat or sorority from whence they came, right? Right...?

Suddenly, it occurred to me that if I was doing my best O'Bonacker impression and getting a little too drunk on this cool, green March afternoon, then why wouldn't other TV on the Radio fans be doing the same thing? That comforted me at first, until I met Bree. Well, I didn't just meet Bree, I've met her several times before. She's a nice woman and all, but she is exactly the type of obnoxious drunk girl I would not want to have standing next to me at a concert. When I told her my plans for the night, she exclaimed her jealousy of how she was not going. When I asked why, she told me she knew that she would be too drunk to even make it. This comment worried me a bit. If Bree couldn't make it, that's fine, but what if other obnoxious drunk girls or guys decided that a TV on the Radio concert would be a fun way mix up the night, and could make it to the show? Oh jeez, I thought, this night could turn out to be a total disaster. The last thing I wanted was an audience full of people blowing their Official St. Patrick's day whistles during every song, throwing their official St. Patrick's day beads toward the stage (but never quite making it), or spending so much time at the bar that it became hard to hear the band over the sound of glass bottles hitting a trash can. My fears only increased when I got a call from a friend saying that she was unable to get a ticket because the show was sold out. However, I will admit that I was able to ease my worries somewhat by drinking.

My party and I came back home to wind down before leaving for the venue. I don't know if it was the beer, the pot, or the fact that we were listening to Return to Cookie Mountain as a primer for the show, but suddenly my roommate was at his computer looking at Ticketmaster's website just to make sure the show had sold out. Tickemaster online confirmed the theory at first, but I suggested that maybe we call the venue just to make sure. When we finally got a hold of a real live person, we learned that there were in fact 30 or so tickets left at the box office. To make things better, my friend who could not get tickets earlier was on her way over to our apartment to hang out for an hour, and when she arrived we told her the good news, and plans were made: we're going to TV on the Radio...ALL OF US!

I know, you're probably thinking if I wanted to about read some drunk guy's weekend I'd pick up some Kerouac or Hemingway, and you would have a valid argument. Well, you're in luck, because unless you care to hear about the drive to the venue or my hour at Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill, I'll skip to the good stuff.

We got there in time to catch a little bit of the opening act, Subtle. I had heard a little bit about them from a co-worker who is real big into indie hip-hop and knows as much about the Anticon label as Stephen Hawking does about black holes. I expected to like the band. What I did not expect was to really like them. Honestly, they did not appear very hip-hop at all, and it was then that I realized that, hey!, I really like 13 & God, and these guys were in 13 & God, especially lead vocalist Doseone. My ears perked up and I tried to take more notice, but we ran into another group of friends and distraction won the day. This was only the beginning of me running into friends, during the rest of Subtle's set and the break between the bands I found several pockets of friends I have known throughout my life. It was a strange, surreal reunion of sorts, one that could only be made better with, you guessed it, more beer. And finding a closer spot to the stage.

TV on the Radio came out shortly after 9:15. They must want you to gamble a little bit after seeing a show at the voodoo lounge. I'm used to getting to the venue at about 9:15. But I digress. They made some noise with their instruments and then started into a song. I did not recognize it at first, there was no split second saxophone intro to cue me, but when Tunde started singing "Woke up in a magic nigger movie" I knew exactly what was going on. The song, now with drums(!) was propelled into the stratosphere as it progressed. The guitars sounded crisper and clearer than ever before. Surely all the rave live reviews I had read about them back in '04 were completely founded. (Someone told me once, after seeing them open for the Liars, that it was like a religious experience, with bodies shaking, hands thrown in the air, and a few hallelujahs). If any song was going to match the energy of "Wrong Way", I had no idea what it would be. The band wasted no time in starting into "Dreams", with Tunde creating a whistle sample that could be heard in syncopation during some of the more quiet parts. Somehow the song was able to lift the audience even higher. Perhaps it the whirlwind of guitars, but really I think it was Kyp Malone, you know, the hairy guy, singing his heart out like he was the lead of the band. One thing I was really excited to finally witness was the vocal interplay within the band, and sometimes it was difficult to tell who was doing what.

The band then proceeded to play just about everything off of their latest album, Return to Cookie Mountain. "Province" came first, and sounded great despite not having David Bowie around to lend a vocal chord. "I Was a Lover" and "Wolf Like Me" came next, which sent the crowd into a frenzy. "Wolf" was especially frantic, and the audience, the old school hipster fans and new ones alike, were pumping their fists in excitement. Tunde responded by thanking the crowd repeatedly throughout the show, and seemed genuinely happy to be playing for us. And why not? Maybe it was the beer and the holiday cheer, but the crowd was top notch (except for during "Tonight", where the bar crowd felt it was appropriate to talk during a slow song).

The band wisely decided to move onto slower numbers after "Wolf", and gradually descended into "Tonight", which, from what I could actually hear, was quite beautiful, with the members of Subtle joining the band on percussion instruments.

The band then took their encore break, and soon returned, once again with Subtle, and led into an all-star jam of "Let the Devil In". At the beginning of the song, Tunde asked the audience to sing along, even if they did not know the lyrics, and led the audience in yelling the vocal "ah-oh's" that pepper the song. The audience clapped and sang along like sheep, but honestly it was fucking cool. The band fed off the energy, and even pulled a mulleted hipster out of the front row to play percussion with the band. Tunde grabbed a megaphone, and doing his best Gibby Haynes impression, sang most of the song through the machine, distorting his voice in the process. The song, maybe the best they played the entire night, went off without a hitch. After Tunde was finished singing and the band started to wind the song down to its close, the crowd chimed in again, "singing" along until after the song was finished. Tunde looked bewildered, but in a please don't pinch me, I'm not ready to wake from this dream kind of way.

To finish the set, they finally dug out another Desperate Youth song, "Staring at the Sun", and like the first two songs of the night, it sounded incredible. Also, like the first two songs, they use of an actual human drummer aided the song infinitely. Whereas the album version never really lifts off, this version not only catapulted, but by had the entire place dancing. Its quite hard to articulate how this transition happened exactly, I too was one of those party people in some kind of strange post-drunken yet euphoric trance, not too out of my head to stand still but still a little high to recap the minutes in full detail. Some would say I experienced a "musical orgasm". I would be inclined to agree. I've seen some great shows in my day, but I haven't seen one this good in several months at least.

If TV on the Radio needed some time to get used to playing the new songs live, as several other live reviews I've read in the year since Cookie Mountain first leaked, then I feel bad for those fans that missed out on the beast the band has become since then, because obviously this past year of constant touring has been time well spent. Not only do they look and sound confident playing the new material, the old songs still sparkle like I'm hearing them for the first time all over again. For a band that has nothing to prove - making a big enough impression to jump to a major label after one album, both full lenghths impressing fans and critics alike, and tours that only only get bigger - they still play every show like they are the underdog looking for triumph on their way back to Cookie Mountain, reminding recent converts and old fans alike why they're worth betting on, because in the end you feel confident that they are going to win

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