TV On the Radio Shakes Off First-Night Hiccups to Enthrall HOB Crowd
Photos by Francisco Montes
TV On the Radio House of Blues March 15, 2015
"This is our first show this year inside a closed room. I am so glad everybody has had a good time tonight," TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe announced to a packed house at the House of Blues Sunday night. Kicking off their long-awaited (and delayed) world tour in Houston wasn't intentional.
TVOTR was to begin at Key Arena in Seattle in December, but drummer Jahphet Landis was hospitalized, thus forcing the band to cancel their European leg of the tour. Dates crossed out through February led many fans to believe Sunday's House of Blues show would also have a line drawn through it. Landis' smooth recovery came with a silver lining, though: Houston hosting TVOTR's first official tour date to promote their latest release, Seeds.
There are two TVOTRs. The first reflects the soulful avant-garde praise choruses buried underneath electronic tones and samples, which showcases vocalist Tunde Adebimpe's gospel swells and often provokes call-and-response moments. The second casts off production restraints and soars free of drum-machine restrictions. Live, the band creates emotional peaks and valleys that are not as clearly defined on record.
Sunday, "Lazerray" kicked the door wide open, barreling through with a Ramones-like groove and chant. TVOTR's uptempo songs live are fierce betrayals of their records, as the band's chemistry and energy captures their true essence. The set proudly highlighted their new record, featuring half a dozen songs from it. "Happy Idiot," Seeds' first and obvious single, sounded closer to the original recording than their other live arrangements.
However, the galvanic synths pulsating throughout "Careful You" failed to sustain the evening's rhapsodic energy, and "Trouble" sounded lost and out of place in the set. Power-ballad fumes reeked from the song, resurrecting the miserable '80s mantra "Don't worry, be happy" that resonated with more sincerity than irony.
TVOTR's orchestrated live sound typically amazes, but not Sunday. Dave Smoota Smith played nearly every instrument, from trombone to Moog to bass guitar; his horn begs for a full brass section that would illuminate the band's funkier moments. Guitarist/producer Dave Sitek's virtuosity remains, although somewhat hampered by the band's newest material. Adebimpe's vocals found their strength later in the set but early on were buried in the sound mix, forcing him to strain his voice; sadly, that might have been avoided through more careful attention by the venue.
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Regardless of the abrupt moments, the enamored crowd dug into the classic renditions of "Wolf Like Me," and high drama ensued when the crowd's singalong drowned out Adebimpe to his delight. The audience also sang every word of the chorus to "Young Liars," demonstrating TVOTR's true strength: engaging the crowd. Cries for songs from Return to Cookie Mountain and the Young Liars EP were heard to a near-agonizing degree, but TVOTR never intended this set to be a greatest-hits session. Nor did the crowd mind one bit.
Much of the set focused on songs that have been in the band's live repertoire for many years. Because of their visceral and engaging performances, TVOTR has always been on the verge of being one of the greatest live acts. The primary component holding them back is their terrific back catalog of material begging to be performed. Songs from Dear Science, their finest album to date, were almost entirely left out of Sunday's set, for example.
But to a delighted audience, TV on the Radio returned to the stage to perform two more songs to an audience that would have remained for ten more. Closing with their best-loved and best-known track, "Staring at the Sun," reminded the audience what originally drew them to one of the past decade's greatest rock groups. Despite the occasional technical pitfalls that normally plague the first show of any tour, no one left the House of Blues dissatisfied or displeased. They just left craving more.
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