TV on the Radio are one of those bands that it's easy to imagine failing live because of the intricate production and loads of intertwined effects that go into their sound. But much like Radiohead, a band whose sound seems to present similar challenges, they counter most of it by tweaking the songs to rock a little harder and swing a bit more to make them translate well to a live setting. It can be a whole hell of a lot more impressive to recklessly plow through songs with a dozen things going on than to pummel away on just a few chords, and when TV on the Radio gets into a groove they are a tremendously exciting live act.
Still, it can be a little hard to keep things loose with so much going on, and at first the band seems a little boxed in by their equipment. Lead singer Tunde Adebimpe has a secondary mix and a synth with an entire rack of effects pedal up front, and bassist Gerard Smith has graduated from standing shyly with his back to the audience to hiding entirely behind a barricade of keyboards, synthesizers, laptops, even partially tucked behind an amp. David Sitek is also kind of off in a corner, still, shredding and swinging the wind chimes that hang off his headstock, but back behind a sixth touring member who mostly plays sax. It can take awhile for all the instruments and effects to be tweaked from song to song, which isn't long enough to derail the show, but there's just enough downtime between songs for the crowd to deflate a little and hamper the momentum.
Although the band shifts toward a more guitar-based approach live, the rocking songs werent' really the highlights. The band's greatest asset is having Adebimpe and Kyp Malone, two of the best vocalists out there right now. Anytime they got a chance to harmonize, like on "Dreams," it was captivating. Malone, in particular, shines, and it's great to see him getting a high-profile lead vocal on the new single "Golden Age." The band really seemed to be getting into a groove at the very end, when the rocked-up "Satellite" lead an amped crowd into the excellent encore. The mellow "Love Dog" was a surprising highlight, showcasing Tunde's vocals and sounding all the world like a dark, downer '80s ballad. "A Method" features most of the band on percussion, including wood blocks, bells, and even Tunde hitting a cymbal as he sings. The rousing end, with Sitek pounding a single tom on the floor, is a great reminder that TV on the Radio is. And the finale of "Staring at the Sun" got a bigger reaction than the band's breakthrough "Wolf Like Me."
As with the Against Me!/Ted Leo/Future of the Left gig I saw the previous night at the Electric Factory, a rigid crowd, coupled with some poor sound mixing, hurt the atmosphere a bit. In the first few rows, the guitar crunch smothered over the finer details of the song, including the sax parts, but it seemed like a more even mix further back in the crowd. The band also took a bit to really get into a groove, though, and the show got more and more engrossing with each track.
This may be more of a commentary on indie crowds in general than TV on the Radio in particular, most kids were more concerned with snapping video on their iPhones than enjoying the moment. I also saw at least one grumpy greenhorn concertgoer, who frowned the whole time and shoved people who were bumped into him from the pit. (Here's a tip, you doofus: it's a rock show. People dance, the crowd is chaotic, and you have to be ready to be bounced a little. If you're going to be a dick, sit in the back or don't come at all. No one likes you.)
About a third of the way into the set, I decided to relocate back to the only section of the crowd where anyone was jumping around. During "Satellite" I was bouncing and singing along, and made eye contact a few times with another guy who was doing the same. After the song, he went out of his way to grab me and say "Thank you!" simply for being one of the few in the crowd showing energy. I kept it up, and when the show ended he thanked me again and gave me a quick hug. I saw where he was coming from, though. It's a sad state of affairs when indie rockers are so rigid and starched that I made someone's night just by, you know, shaking my ass a little.
The Wrong Way
Wolf Like Me
Blues From Down Here
Shout Me Out
Staring at the Sun