by Pete Millerman

Saturday June 16 offered that rarity of rarities, a “name” show at Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield “Summerstage” that was free to one and all, (suggested donation $3), and wasn’t a paid benefit. (gasp.)

Headliners Television needed no introduction to the assembled throngs, being long standing CBGB-pedigreed New York legends who released their classic first album, Marquee Moon, back in 1977, and Adventure the following year before disbanding and reassembling peridocally since 1991 for recordings and live performances.

The show carried an omen of gravitas, since it was billed as co-lead-guitarist Richard Lloyd’s “farewell” show with the band, before his departure to concentrate his energies on his own outfit the Sufi Monkeys. In reality, since these gentlemen perform live – what? every four years or so since the early ’90s? – it was more an oppurtunity to see the mesmerizing interplay between Tom Verlaine and Lloyd’s inventive front-line guitar explorations backed by the stellar rhythm section of Fred Smith (bass) and Billy Ficca (drums).

Alas, we convened privy to diminished expectations as it became known that Lloyd remained hospitalized battling pneumonia, and would be replaced as guitarist by long-time Verlaine sideman Jimmy Ripp. Luckily, these qualms helped the show rise above and beyond what may have been anticipated. If you go in expecting less…

Openers Dragon of Zynth, a member of the Black Rock Coalition were indistinguished-to-grating during a brief set, but the hook-fest of the next opening act, Apples in Stereo (of the lonstanding ‘Elephant 6′ Indy-rock collective) brought the crowd to its feet with instantly catchy ELO-ish power choruses delivered by whiny, earnest leader Robert Schneider.

As thunderclouds pelted the crowd with both rain and irony during the Apples’ set of “sunshine pop,” the colorfully attired Apples (including former Sunshine Fix frontman Bill Doss on second keyboard and what appeared to be a melodica) went over well depite the weather.

By the time Tom Verlaine took the stage, bitching (with good reason) about PA problems, wishing Richard Lloyd a speedy recovery, intoducing Ripp, and sporting the same hairstyle he did 30 years ago, the skies had cleared. Once the sound problems were squared away, Television took over, and immediately left no doubt who the big boys on this bill were.

BIG sound. LOUD. And substitute guitar or not, immediately unique and distinguishable. A friend once said Television was what would happen if Lou Reed fronted the Grateful Dead, and indeed, the desperate vocals and long intertwined jamming explorations were a good example of that. Ringer Ripp proved his mettle, and having played for years with Verlaine was obviously both familiar with and capable of executing the trippy terrain.

Verlaine was – dare I sat it? – in peak form. Television gave the audience favorites like “Venus de Milo,” “Prove It” and “Glory,” threw in some R n’ B influenced garage rock, some Miles Davis-esque Eastern/Spanish chorded explorations, and attacked the limits of melodic noise during jamfests like ‘Little Johnny Jewel” and the anticipated finale “Marquee Moon.”

Post show reaction appeared pleased and fulfilled, though obviously with a tinge of dissapointment that Lloyd could not attend. Hopefully Richard will come back to play with his erstwhile bandmates in the near future – it is always a delight to hear he and Verlaine’s creative exercises. But no one went home disappointed. By splitting the difference theoretically, chronologically, and sonically between Fifth Dimension -era Byrds and Sonic Youth, Television pulled off a gutsy, noisy triumph.


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