May 31, 2009

suddenly, all your history’s ablaze

Last night at TV on the Radio hit Winnipeg...hard. It was the kind of unrelenting performance that’s made the Brooklyn six-piece impossible to ignore. The crowd was ecstatic. It was clear from the moment they took the stage that this visit was long overdue.

Yes, TV on the Radio still matter a great deal, even if last year’s Dear Science was a small step down from Return to Cookie Mountain. What a contrast last night was to the the other time I saw them. Back in 2006, they were joined by Grizzly Bear at Playmaker’s in Fargo, where around 200 people stood awkwardly in a room that could have accommodated 800. TV on the Radio were doing their best to hide their disappointment at the poor turn out. It was a poor showing (in their breakout year, no less), made worse by the fact that most of the crowd had been made up of Winnipeggers, and by now I think the band has realized that blood flows hotter just north of the border. TVOTR is the kind of band that feeds off their audience and last night they knew just how to work us over (Tunde Adebimpe made sure to dedicate a song to Guy Maddin and the Royal Art Lodge).

My new heroes, the Dirty Projectors, opened and new fans were converted in droves (or so it seemed at the merch table). You could see jaws drop during the duet that bookends “Bitte Orca,” and by their closer, “Stillness Is The Move,” we were all quite captivated; some of us a little bewildered by the lauded single’s unexpected hip-hop flavour. I was slightly ticked, as I’d been hoping to purchase Bitte Orca at the show, and though the band was selling the album on cassette tapes (!), those of us looking a circular medium will just have to hang tight until the official release.

They were a fitting opener for TV on the Radio, who still manage to harness the sound of confusion in all of its grandeur. Dave Sitek still runs around the stage with wind chimes dangling from the neck of his guitar and Tunde Adebimpe continues to sing like he’s fighting for his life. I was pleased to hear two of my favourite tracks from Return to Cookie Mountain, “Wash the Day” and “Blues From Down Here,” kick off the set. “Wolf Like Me” brought everyone to their feet, while the percussive chaos of “A Method” provided an opportunity to have the Dirty Projectors invade the stage for the encore. More recent material, from last year’s Dear Science, held up well. “Halfway Home” and “Dancing Choose” were certainly standouts, while my personal favourite from the album, “DLZ,” lacked the stealthiness that made its trip-hop so vital. But it was a small disappointment. They ended well with "Staring at the Sun" from Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes. And besides, they had a saxophone! Used well, the sax will get me every time. It adds that extra layer of (post-colonial) tension to their sound, that a mess of contradictions so tough to pin down. At once desperate and exuberant, discordant and yet so purely refined.

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