We can only assume there’s a collective wisdom in the old showbiz saying that the show must go on, as it did for mid-career Brooklyn band TV on the Radio last night at The Independent. Their bassist-keyboardist Gerard Smith, a band member since 2003, passed away on April 20 after a brief but brave bout with lung cancer, which the public learned of just a month before his passing. So fingers were dutifully crossed in the hopes that last night’s rescheduled show offered some therapeutic value, or at least the occasional moment of distraction from the grim tragedy that has befallen this band.
The band members made little if any mention of Smith during their Monday night set, but seemed especially grateful to be in such an intimate space with adoring fans. Given that TV on the Radio is at a point where they could easily sell The Fillmore or The Warfield, booking modest-sized gigs like The Independent is an interesting and perhaps telling indication of where the band’s priorities are right now.
Dave Sitek, Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe — the original trio of TV on the Radio (now a five-piece) — still seem to be reluctant rock stars, and Malone and Sitek in particular have never fully embraced their indie star status. Theirs is more of an awkward charm, with Sitek with his back to the crowd for the bulk of the set, strumming endlessly into wind-tunnel-like amps, while Malone hit falsettos behind glasses, a sprawling beard and flair such as the gnome-like bucket hat he rocked on Monday. Eyes consistenly focus on Adebimpe, who does all of his dancing with his hand, like a flag downwind from his pipes. His songwriting style is verbose and rich, and he delivers his lyrics with soulful oomph and rapid-fire word play.
Having just released their latest full-length album, Nine Types of Light, we half-expected to get a large dosage of new material. But from Nine Types, which has garnered near-universal praise from critics for its eclectic mix of experimental-pop and decelerated noise-rock soundscapes, the band pulled just three songs. It began with “Caffeinated Consciousness,” which begins with lead singer Adebimpe making anxious, declarative statements over a simple chord or two from guitarist Malone. Like most TVOTR songs, it eventually expands and builds into something complex, thanks to the layering of manipulated distortion from guitarist Sitek (by the way, are there any bands that re-produce such a sophisticated studio sound as cleanly as TVOTR does in the live format, with little help from soundboards?). For “Will Do,” Adebimpe began his thesis with the line “It might be impractical to seek out a new romance,” before building to his signature grooving howl. In “Repetition,” Adebimpe’s vocals were once again given ample space for anunciation, touching on themes of recklessness and existential anxiety, before waxing meta all over our ears, repeating the line “My repetition, my repetition is this.”
But they were mostly in the mood to pay service to fans of albums past. They reached way back to 2003 with “Satellite,” “Young Liars” and “Staring at the Sun,” each reincarnated eight years later with new band members. From 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain, which solidified their cred with a growing worldwide audience, they played “Province,” “Blues from Down Here” and “Wolf Like Me.” They also paid heed to “Dear, Science” with a retrofitted outro in “Crying” and a stripped down rendition of “Red Dress.”
By the end of the night, Malone had a simple request: “Take a bow San Francisco,” perhaps an indication that soldiering on is indeed the right thing to do.