See No Evil
They were mainstays at CBGB during its heyday in the late 70's, that was about all I knew of Television before their free Central Park show a few years ago. My wife and I walked in a bit late, bought our $12 beers, and watched them play what I now know is the title track to Marquee Moon. The song runs over ten minutes long, with an instrumental interlude spanning the majority of its playtime. They embellished on it live, and what felt like fifteen minutes in I was already finding myself pretty damn bored by the whole thing. It sounded like a garagey version of Phish, a sort of meandering piece of music that never found the hook it seemed to be searching for. Maybe everyone was tranced out or I missed the mushroom party, but the crowd appeared lifeless. The band lacked energy or any sort of stage presence, and at the time I thought these bros from the 70’s just didn't have much steam left in them. But maybe they were playing with heavy hearts. We stayed for a few more tracks and left disappointed.
Undeterred, I bought a copy of Marquee Moon a few weeks after the show. It floored me how immediate and infectious it was. About half way through a live performance I didn't understand the appeal but the opening riff to "See No Evil" left me wearing an unshakable grin. What phenomenal guitar play. I immediately thought of one of my favorite albums, The Strokes’ Is This It (insert typical hipster joke here); I could see Casablancas and Hammond, Jr. sitting around some years ago, picking apart the guitar licks on Marquee Moon while gathering ideas for the dynamic guitar interplay on their debut album some 25 years later. Television uses a dual left/right guitar approach (and as it is with most complex guitar bands, mono is not a good option when playing this record), sometimes layering as many as four and five guitars on to a track at once. Songs like “Venus” and “Friction” have guitar leads that last their entire lengths, mixing in multiple and frequent guitar solos. All too often the solo will sound like such a pretentious piece of shit in rock’n’roll music, but Television uses precision, allowing the solo to improve the overall structure of the song while simultaneously attacking its conventionalism, and they do so with confidence, not arrogance.
I admit I still skip over the sprawling “Marquee Moon” most times through, but damn if their live show didn’t give me a false impression, because Marquee Moon is rock'n'roll guitar virtuosity at its finest.