A near-sellout crowd at the Paradise Wednesday night witnessed 13 songs, 100 minutes of music, and one-third of Television's entire 2004 US tour. The seminal punk/new wave group from New York -- helmed by guitarists Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd -- played yesterday (and will play tonight) at Irving Plaza in its hometown and then will head to Europe for some festivals. For this most curious of rock entities, Wednesday's gig was the band's first Boston date since a 1992 concert, also at the Paradise, the last year it released an album of new material.
During the show, Television played a half-dozen unrecorded songs, even stacking three of them -- "Squaggle," "The Sea," and "Persia" -- near the end of the regular set, just before the lyrical, ever-mind-bending "Marquee Moon," which is to Television what "Whipping Post" was to the Allman Brothers Band. It's not a fatuous comparison. Verlaine and Lloyd, with their twin guitar attack -- they swap rhythm and lead -- and expansive songs, are the Duane Allman and Dickey Betts of the punk rock world. Television has always moved at a more languid pace than its peers; its music, though bruised and bleeding with anguish and resignation, has not had the fire and rage of its contemporaries. Wednesday night, Verlaine, the lead singer, had a nasal, pinched tone and his vocals were often buried in the mix. The pleasure came from the crystalline guitar hooks and knockin'-on-heaven's door guitar leads.
And so it remains. On Wednesday, no one onstage said much of anything to the crowd, though Verlaine acknowledged that the encore, "Psychotic Reaction," was by Count Five. The band, including bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca, was almost always low-lit in a muted red.
The evening began with two midtempo, seven-minute-plus songs, "A Dream's Dream" and "1880 or So," sending the message that this was a set that would manage to be relaxed and intense. When Television hit the opening notes of familiar tunes such as "Venus," "See No Evil," "Prove It," and especially "Marquee Moon," the crowd responded with fervor -- long-lost classics come to life!
Television's pleasure remains opaque, perhaps more cerebral than visceral. The new songs, though difficult to fully comprehend on a first listen, did not cause the set to sag. The band played as if for its own satisfaction, not at all for show. But in the band's satisfaction came ours, and we were just happy to be there for the ride.