Does living in Melbourne get any better than it has been this past week? The inaugural arrival in town of Harvest: The Gathering festival has brought Melbourne music fans more quality side shows in a matter of days than we usually hope for in six months; think Flaming Lips, Bright Eyes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. And, of course, Brooklyn giants TV on the Radio.
While TV on the Radio grace our shores fairly regularly, this time around they are emerging from the aftermath of tragedy. Bassist Gerard Smith died of lung cancer in April of this year, only 9 days after the release of their latest album Nine Types of Light. The tragic aftermath of the album’s release stands in stark contrast to the joyful atmosphere of the album itself. Unlike TV on the Radio’s earlier releases, which are often driven by a kind of manic aggression, Nine Types of Light positively shines with optimism.
Going into their live show, it was easy to wonder whether this elated feeling would be overcome by woe; certainly, this would not be the first time that a band has been fatally wounded by the death of a member. But the moment that vocalist Tunde Adebimpe launches into the captivating vocal hook from ‘Second Song’ (“every lover on a mission/shift your known position into the light”), it is clear that this is going to be a show defined by joy rather than darkness.
Dappled Cities opened with an enthusiastic and capable set. This band has been around the scene for awhile now, and that longevity has given their sound the kind of polish that only comes with experience. However, at some points, it’s hard not to feel like their jangly guitar-driven sound has been lifted straight from 2005, when The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand dominated the airwaves. For that reason, the set can occasionally feel a bit tired and dated.
TV on the Radio began their set with ‘Young Liars’, a track off their first major release in 2003. This is a band known for being masters of many genres, and this song shows off their cruisey, bluesy capabilities to stunning effect. Then, as they launch into new track ‘Caffeineted Consciousness’, the mood of the set undergoes a complete makeover. As Adebimpe exclaims “I’m optimistic!/On overload!”, the show suddenly becomes defined by a kind of bombastic exhiliration. Similar dramatic changes in mood occur even within individual songs; while ‘Forgotten’ begins with a lazy refrain (‘for the summer’), it build steadily to an elated outro, complete with Adebimpe’s falsetto and whistled refrain. And, of course, there is the dark urgency and frantic energy of tracks like crowd favourite ‘Wolf Like Me.’
Adebimpe is undoubtedly the driving force behind the live performance. He is a frenetic vocal presence, pacing back and forth on the stage like a man possessed, often making flapping motions like he is batting energy away. He keeps the audience captivated, and when he is crying out the refrain from ‘DLZ’ (“this is beginning to feel like the long winded blues of the never”), the crowd obediently sings along as if are hypnotized.
Inevitably, some of the glossy production that characterises Nine Type of Light was lost in translation to live performance. Mostly, the songs benefited from the more garagey feel. Only gorgeous love song ‘Will Do’ seemed to suffer; the song was played at a faster pace with Adebimpe motoring through the lyrics and, as a result, lost some of its dreamlike, ethereal quality. But these are small criticisms of what was a near-perfect set, played by a band well and truly at the top of their game.
– Annika Holden