By Jim DeRogatis

Pop Music Critic

May 12, 2001


Twenty-four years after its debut with the D.I.Y. single "Little Johnny Jewel," Television is still all about the power of the guitars.

Reuniting for the second time, the New York quartet delivered that early epic midway through a 90-minute set at a sold-out Metro on Thursday night, the centerpiece gig of the second Noise Pop festival.

Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd continue to stretch the creative boundaries for what can be done in rock 'n' roll with six strings, a few effects pedals and a lot of imagination. They redefine their instruments the way John Coltrane or Miles Davis did theirs. But they still haven't learned the lesson from their disappointing 1992 reunion.

Displays of virtuosity, no matter how impressive, always ring hollow when they aren't in the service of great songs.

In '92, Television was touring behind a new album for Capitol, its self-titled third. But this mediocre effort paled in comparison to '77's groundbreaking "Marquee Moon" and '78's powerful but underrated "Adventure."

At Metro on Thursday, the band seemed determined to convince us that the'92 material wasn't really so bad: Half the set was drawn from that disc, while far superior tunes from the first two albums (not to mention Verlaine's solo efforts) was passed over.

Monochromatic exercises like "Shane, she wrote this" and "Call Mr. Lee" were better live than on album, but the songs haven't grown more tuneful or gripping in the last nine years. In sharp contrast, older guitar duels like "See No Evil," "Venus" and "Prove It" sounded as brilliant and timeless as ever, with Lloyd and Verlaine intertwining melodic lead lines as Fred Smith and Billy Ficca propelled the fractured rhythms.

Aside from the set list, the other disappointment was a horribly timed meltdown by Lloyd during the climactic instrumental rave-up in the band's signature tune, "Marquee Moon." Lloyd broke a string and took a full five minutes to grab and tune another guitar. Rather than cycle around to repeat the key solos--the reason many fans paid their $20 to be there--the group just let the song peter out.

An encore of "Glory" and a fiery cover of the Count Five's garage classic "Psychotic Reaction" redeemed the band somewhat. But overall, it was a performance in which the handful of stellar highs were outnumber by the ho-hum lows.

Opening for Television: Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannenberg's post-Pavement combo, the Preston School of Industry, a thoroughly generic indie-rock cliche.