The Blow Up
There is a moment on this disc, about 5 minutes into the 14 minute “Little Johnny Jewel,” where Tom Verlaine mutters the phrase “and then he loses his senses.” At that point, the guitars of Verlaine and Richard Lloyd merge and proceed to shear the top of your head off. Woefully underappreciated (they broke up after their second album, Adventure , due in part to a fickle music press and lack of sales), Television comes closest, out of all the late seventies American punk, to fulfilling the glory and grandeur that the movement hinted at. Arty to a fault, almost totally unable to sing, Verlaine wove intricate, swirling strands of guitar hysteria with cohort Richard Lloyd. Backed by the rhythm section of drummer Billy Ficca and bassist Fred Smith (who replaced founding member Richard Hell), the band’s debut album, Marquee Moon , is a challenging, evocative classic. From the screeching punk energy of “See No Evil” to the wry “Venus De Milo” and the Coltrane-like title cut, this album has weathered far better than others from time period, and actually still sounds ahead of its time. One suspects it always will.
This live CD set, sounding like an audience tape job, captures the group in 1978, shortly before they broke up. No information is given as to the origin of the material, other than that it was picked by Verlaine, so you wonder how many different shows it encompasses.
Freed from the overdubbing and knob-twiddling that Verlaine seemed prone to in the studio, the record shows a band that is incredibly focused, shockingly raw, and able to improvise on a level generally only seen in jazz. No “jam” band on earth could match the pure spontaneous genius of this music — it reminds you of no other rock band before or since — more as if Ornette Coleman put down his sax and picked up a Stratocaster.
Far from being a art-rock wank fest, this music is punk to its very core. Listen to the closing cut, a cover of “Satisfaction.” If Mick and the boys tried to play along with this, they would keel over and die. It is frantic, overwhelming attacks of “guitars set to stun,” with Ficca and Smith so locked they seem of one body. They swing — Ficca is actually a drummer, not a pounder. Opening the set with “Fire Engine,” the 13th Floor Elevators song (called “The Blow Up” on the disc, for some reason) the record showcases the best of the band’s output. From the power chord crash of “See No Evil” to a wicked “Friction,” along with a DNA-rearranging cover of Dylan’s “Knocking
On Heavens Door,” you marvel at the depth of the arrangements, the interplay between two brilliant guitarists and ultimately, the true joy of punk — that a music can be ordered, but still exist with no rules. While it may smack of hyperbole to say it, Television existed in a realm far removed from mere mortals — free-falling from space into guitar heaven, landing with a crash in a gutter outside some dirty New York club. In documenting a moment that will never exist again, The Blow Up serves not only as an astounding musical landmark, but also as a monument to the heights that four men and electricity can reach.
ROIR, 611 Broadway, Suite 411, New York, NY 10012