Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My New Fav'rit Rekkid...

As much of the general public understand it, the pantheon of Guitar Gods is comprised mostly of the great blues and jazz guitarists, the great icons of the 60s like Clapton, Beck, Hendrix, Santana, and Zappa, the hairy Hercules' of the hard rock and heavy metal canon, and assorted Knopfler-esque or Steely Danny scions of tasteful virtuosity. While I am a big lover of many, if not all of those members of the guitar fraternity, I am also a huge supporter of the long and much unheralded history of the "Alt Guitar God". Those who work their wiry wriggly wranglings of the git-fiddle outside of the mainstream world of leather, denim, and spandex of Guitar Player magazine.

The Alt Guitar God, or Geek Guitar God has existed as long as the electric guitar itself. Before there was Jack White, Carrie Brownstien, and Dan Auerbach, there were Doug Martsch and Stephen Malkmus. before that there were Ira Kaplan, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Marc Ribot, Mitch Easter etc. Before that there was Television. There were Geek Guitar Gods before Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd of Television, but for myself and many others, they seem to define the idea and have the greatest influence on those who followed.

Television only released two studio albums in their prime, 1977's much lauded masterpiece Marquee Moon and 1978's criminally mis-produced, though underrated Adventure, yet their influence is still heard on the airwaves today. Live at the Old Waldorf was allegedly given some sort of CD release a few years back that I somehow missed, and was given a delicious white vinyl double album release for Record Store Day, 2011*. For me, listening to it has been a delicious revelation.

The sound seems to be top notch soundboard recording quality of the day, with the only caveat being that the band's backing vocals are a bit low in the mix. The performance is stellar. The band, on its first (and only) headlining tour in support of Adventure, are in top form and obviously well-rehearsed. Lloyd does not solo much, but is on his game when he does. Verlaine's soloing is somehow both more focused and more adventurous than on the legendary The Blow-Up bootleg (in my opinion, his "Little Johnny Jewel" solo on this rekkid crushes the mythic Blow-Up solo). However, two things outside of the already established mastery of Messrs. Lloyd and Verlaine are what make this recording a revelation for me.

First of all, this recording reveals the true, taut-as-a-high-pitched-snare-drum power of Television's rhythm section. While the dual lead guitar thrust of Verlaine and Lloyd will always be the stars of Television, Live at the Old Waldorf reveals the significance of Fred Smith's bass and Billy Ficca's drums to their sound in a way that previous releases, studio, bootleg, or otherwise, hadn't quite emphasized.

Secondly, this recording reinforces my sense of "what might have been" about Adventure as well as Television as a band. In my mind, Adventure sits firmly along side the Clash's Give 'Em Enough Rope on the chart of greatest "what not to do with your second album" mistakes. The success of the Cars' debut album had Television and their management worrying that "here's a band that sounds like us, but more commercial", so Television and Elektra sought to clean up a sound that was perfect in its dirty form. The Clash, on the other hand, were saddled with a label that wanted to make their ducats off them by marketing them to America, and saddled them with a producer to make them more commercial. Both instances were huge mistakes. In the case of Television it was part of the end of the band. In the case of the Clash it preceded the greatest rock and roll album ever made.

What is true about both Give 'Em Enough Rope and Adventure is that the fault does not lie in the material. I have always insisted that Give 'Em Enough Rope was nearly flawless as far as its material, and featured several if the best Clash songs ever. I'd always felt similarly about Television's sophomore outing, but hadn't been fully convinced until I heard the songs from Adventure here, unfettered by "studio magic".  "The Dream's Dream", "Foxhole", "Careful", and "Ain't that Nothin'" all come to life in the "Live" setting. The guitars crunch rather than hum. The bass churns. The drums charge from the speakers in a way that they completely failed to do in the original mix or reissue. But the point is that the songs from Adventure on Live at the Old Waldorf belie the true adventure that Adventure might have been.

All that said, this rekkid borders on the transcendent. Set ye forth and find a copy.

* I'm not entirely sure this rekkid is readily available in LP or CD form, but if'n your ears is all you need, it is available on iTunes.

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