Live Review – TV On The Radio at Brixton Academy

Thunder! Bash! Squawk!

TV On The Radio make complicated music. It’s challenging, multi-textured, frenetic stuff, taking influences from pretty much anyone you can think of. Prince? Check. Roxy Music? Check. Obscure ‘80’s industrial-funk band Slab!? Check. U2? Check. Tackhead? Check. Go on, add some random names into that list and see how you get on. It makes for a fascinating, if not exactly relaxing, listen on record. But how do they sound live?

By and large, they do really well. It helps that the two front-men – Tunde Adepimbe and Kyp Malone – are engaging performers, Tunde taking time out to dance backwards round the stage at regular intervals, Kyp more relaxed in his superb beard and hair combo. Even from the heights of the balcony1 here in the Brixton Academy you feel this lot really want to entertain you. They’re not just here to trudge through the numbers and if anyone else likes it, it’s a bonus.

The rest of the band know what they are doing too. Dave Sitek (good Polish name, that), Tunde’s writing partner and co-founder, swaps between guitar and the keyboards that add so much to the sound. Saxophonist Martin Perna does his Roxy Music thang. Drummer Jaleel Bunton channels the spirit of Tackhead/Sugarhill Gang stickman Keith LeBlanc to superb effect, mixing live drums with a drum machine and lord knows what else.

The night started off a little slowly with “Love Dog”, then “The Wrong Way” started to liven things up a bit, before “Golden Age” exploded at its chorus, filling space with its ecstatic sound. “Wolf Like Me” was simply furious, with two guitarists facing their amps, generating a wall of noise.

But TVOTR live work better on the quieter numbers. Straight after “Wolf” came a few of the gentler songs, “Dirtywhirl” and “Province”, and the additional space allowed the songs to breathe without being suffocated by the huge mass of overlapping tunes and rhythms that tends to happen in the livelier numbers. A predictable, if hugely welcome highlight came with first encore “Family Tree”, probably TVOTR’s most human and emotional song, where the layers of sound get peeled away to show the heart underneath it all. Yeah, it might feel a little mawkish, and is their most stadium moment, but after everything that comes before it’s a delight to the aural palate.

The night ended with “Staring At The Sun”. The lights came on, everyone looking somewhat shellshocked. I couldn’t form a coherent sentence for a good ten minutes after2.
If anything, TVOTR remind me of Heston Blumenthal. Like the famous chef, they take influences from all around the world, mix them together in unexpected, bizarre ways, and with incomparable technical skill, to make something utterly unique and hugely compelling. But after a while, all you want is a nice slice of toast.

1 I hate watching gigs from balconies. I especially hate it when people around me start talking during the quieter numbers. Can’t you please stop talking, just for an hour? Thank you.

2 Ok, so I don’t often make coherent sentences, but you know what I mean.

A couple of live tracks here, courtesy of Anyone’s Guess:

MP3: Golden Age (Live) by TV On The Radio

MP3: Wolf Like Me (Live) by TV On The Radio

Buy “Dear Science” (CD/MP3)

Buy “Return to Cookie Mountain” (CD/MP3)

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2 Comments

  1. Alix

     /  July 26, 2009

    I was there, and also hate it when people talk through the gig, though most were commenting on how terrible the sound was. What winds me up more are the numerous twats who can’t leave their sodding iPhones alone for the duration of the gig. This gig had them in droves.

  2. loftandlost

     /  July 28, 2009

    Confession time. Sadly I am one of those people who uses his iPhone during gigs – because if I don’t take notes I forget everything I was thinking about. Old age, you know. But SMS’ing etc is wrong during a show.

    As for the sound, it was ok (considering) about halfway up the balcony, but that is the sweet spot in most venues. I can imagine a cacophonous roar elsewhere in the venue…

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