AHHH, the summer of 2008.
It was a bleak time for popular music. That ‘Electric Feel’ song was hanging around like a fart in a blanket, Kaiser Chiefs were still being taken seriously and Kings of Leon had begun the long journey up their own arses. All was not well, oh my brothers and sisters.
But just as the wave ebbs, again must it flow, and its warm and welcome embrace arrived in the form of TV on the Radio’s breakthrough third album Dear Science; a masterpiece of indie/art-rock that was as innovative as it was well-received. Nothing would be the same for the Brooklyn band again, and now, two albums later, they have become something of an institution, highly regarded internationally for both their recorded and live output. In the country to play Vivid Live and a handful of east coast headliners, the quartet are taking the opportunity to give material from their latest album, Seeds, an Australian airing for the first time and it’s Brisbane on a cold (read: not that warm) Wednesday evening that’s the setting.
Someone who cares little for the setting is Kirin J Callinan. “Look at all you Brisbanites together – isn’t it good? Well, it’s good for you, not me,” he laughs, most of the way through a set that chafes, charms and confuses. Top-drawer between-song banter is fast becoming a lost art, but Callinan is a master, although it’s his ability to deliver the unexpected – in this case the crushingly soulful ‘Apology Accepted’ followed by the camped-up-Iggy-on-acid ‘The Toddler’ – that makes him most exciting.
TV on the Radio’s performance, on the other hand, is anything but unexpected – they are tight, trim and untempered by genre, style or trend. Taking the start-with-a-humdinger-before-taking-it-up-a-notch approach with ‘Young Liars’ and ‘Lazerray’, it’s clear the band are up for it from the first few bars. Tunde Adebimpe is a rare breed; a singer who can roar and howl while remaining smooth and soulful, and he consistently proves this while flapping limbs with impressive fury.
‘Happy Idiot’ is an early highlight; it’s typical of the band’s best output in that it’s simple, catchy and urgent, while ‘Could You’ is its obvious twin and ‘Winter’ arouses Adebimpe’s suspicions concerning the lack of anything winter-like in Brisbane. ‘Wolf Like Me’ gets perhaps the biggest response of the evening before ‘Trouble’ and ‘Repetition’ provide a wigged-out close.
It’s now – during their encore – that TVOTR throw a curveball (simultaneously speaking to the nerd in us all) with an excellent reggae/dub version of the Game of Thrones theme. It’s an ace move that is well-received but leaves more than a few heads being scratched, while ‘Staring at the Sun’ provides a more familiar and fitting close to a solid and, at times, rousing performance.
Hats off to TV on the Radio; they made existing in 2008 a more tolerable affair and they’re still doing it seven years later. That ain’t no mean feat.