By: David Schultz
In the Seventies, Television rose from the same burgeoning scene that spawned the Talking Heads, Patti Smith and Blondie to become one of New York City's most identifiable bands. Television's time was brief, but their impact remains a lasting one. Much like the Velvet Underground, Television went relatively underappreciated during their heyday, receiving most of their well-deserved accolades as an influential forerunner of punk and alternative rock well after the release of their debut masterwork Marquee Moon. As the members of Television (circa 1975), Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd, Fred Smith and Billy Ficca, have played together sporadically over the last two decades, any hometown performance generates a solid amount of interest. This past weekend in Central Park, Television's possible swan song attracted enough people to fill up CBGB ten times over
Scheduled to be the first of numerous free summer shows that make up the 2007 Summerstage season, Television’s Saturday afternoon set at the Rumsey Playfield was also rumored to be their last. A couple months earlier, guitarist Richard Lloyd announced that in order to concentrate on his upcoming solo release, the Central Park show would be his last. Unfortunately, fate was not kind to anyone wishing to see Television's farewell. With the 55-year-old guitarist hospitalized with pneumonia, a true Television performance was not to be. With Lloyd unable to play, longtime Verlaine associate Jimmy Ripp, who might replace Lloyd if Television continues on, filled in on short notice.
Many of those in attendance weathered a brief rain shower during the Apples In Stereo's hour long opening set, ironically peppered with songs about the sun that remained defiantly out of reach. The Apples' brisk poppy style songs provided an interesting contrast to Television's minimalist approach. The headlining set was more than just a blast off to Marquee Moon, covering the relevant, if not always melodical, periods of Television's career. Instead of an afternoon delight of give-and-take between Lloyd and Verlaine, Verlaine handed nearly all the leads, his angular guitar solos slicing through Ripp's rhythm guitar and Smith's simple but sterling three note bass riffs that are so noticeable on songs like "Little Johnny Jewel."
Television's sparse material didn't fit Central Park's ultimately sunny atmosphere. Verlaine's toned down wail, experimental-style guitar licks and Television's all-around hipster-chic are much more simpatico with a dimly lit club. Verlaine's attitude didn't seem befitting of a day in the park either. Before playing one note, Verlaine cavalierly mentioned that the regular guitar player couldn't be here, and then launched into a small tirade about the PA system. What may have passed for attitude back in the day came across as the bitching of a cranky old man; although that made it no less entertaining.
As the lightning and rain produced an unexpected delay, Television's set ran well over schedule, leaving no time for an encore. Despite the apparent anxiousness of the Summerstage staff, Television felt no need to wrap things up ahead of their schedule. With time running scarce, Verlaine led Television into "Marquee Moon," guiding them through a 15 minute version of their iconic tune that included a couple false finishes that delighted the crowd but seemingly irked their hosts. If this show is to be their last, Television finished out their career with one last act of defiance; a wonderfully apt gesture and a fitting coup de grace. Will Television comeback for a reunion show? Stay tuned.