Television May 26, Bunkhouse Saloon.
Whenever we’d go to shows, my old buddy Gregg would pick his way close to the guitarist and stare, transfixed by the fingers moving around the instrument’s neck. He was a guitarist himself, so it made sense, but as much as I enjoyed watching Jerry Garcia and Warren Haynes do their thing, it felt to me like he was missing out, on the larger concert spectacle around him.
I myself am no guitar player, but Friday night I understood. As Television began its Punk Rock Bowling club-show set, I felt magnetically drawn toward the front of the Bunkhouse’s outdoor festival stage, to a spot where I could view Tom Verlaine’s guitar work—and for the next hour I rarely shifted my gaze to anything else.
A New York City act associated with the CBGB scene of the late 1970s, Television typically got tagged as a punk (or post- or proto-punk) outfit. In today’s terms, Television might almost be classified as a jam band as well, improvising on a theme as its best songs stretch out, in some cases well beyond the 10-minute mark. But the 67-year-old Verlaine could never be considered a noodler; he picked each note and made every sound with very specific purpose, tightening and loosening the mood, accentuating a moment or tantalizingly delaying a payoff.
He has certainly had time to perfect that technique. Most of Television’s set—three songs from debut LP Marquee Moon (“Prove It,” “Venus” and the title track), early single “Little Johnny Jewel” and early outtake “I’m Gonna Find You”—date back more than 40 years. The lone “new” number—lengthy, Eastern-sounding piece “Persia”—has been a live staple since the early 2000s. Rather than a retelling of old stories, however, Friday’s performance felt fresh, as Verlaine, guitarist Jimmy Rip, bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca injected familiar material with an adventurous spirit.
The night’s other acts—in particular Alice Bag & The Sissy Bears (fronted by feminist punk icon Alice Bag) and Latino LA foursome Generacion Suicida—added to the energy, all of them feeding off a sold-out crowd. But for me, Punk Bowl Bowling’s opening salvo was all about watching Television, at extremely close range.