TV On The Radio live, Koko, Friday November 10
If this year’s excellent 'Return To Cookie Mountain' full-length is any indication of their intentions, Brooklynites TV On The Radio are choosing to correlate their growing audience with ever-increasing layers of sound - creating a dense fog of recorded instrumentation and samples that rewards repeated listening. Even keen admirer David Bowie’s guest vocals on 'Province' are left to fight it out in the swampy midst of the song. Sonic mavericks they most certainly are, however the real challenge for a band of TVOTR’s ambition is making these vast songs and soundscapes work in the live arena. Fortunately, front-man Tunde Adebimpe’s vocal abilities manage to maintain the same presence on stage at Koko as they do in the recording studio. Few modern bands are blessed with a singer capable of shifting from doo-wop harmonies to wildly impassioned, yet note-perfect, howling with such apparent ease.
Adebimpe begins by encouraging a little creative visualisation from the throngs packed into the venue - the ambient sea voyage conjured up is swiftly attacked by wave after wave of 'Dirty Whirl's stormy onslaught. Guitarist David Sitek attaches wind-chimes to his guitar for the opening of 'Dreams' from 2004’s 'Desparate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes', further stretching the influence of the elements upon tonight’s performance.
The first problem in the set arrives during 'Province' when the sheer density of the sound produced causes a few seconds of eardrum-splitting interference. Either that or it was the former Ziggy Stardust himself trying to influence proceedings from afar by phoning in a vocal. To the band’s credit, they quickly get back to their best - recent single 'Wolf Like Me' sees Jaleel Bunton’s explosive drumming prompting a raucous reaction from the front rows. One of their most traditionally rock compositions, the band’s vibrant on-stage energy ensures that it sounds even better than the album version. The same unfortunately, cannot be said of '…Cookie Mountain's sublime opener 'I Was A Lover'. Although Adebimpe’s vocal performance carries the song’s lyrical imagery, the deft multi-layered intricacies that encircle the staccato hip-hop beat are lost in the acoustics of the arena, the resulting wall of noise doesn’t do the exceptional recorded version justice.
Once again, however, TV On The Radio recover their stride - the usually stoic guitarist Kyp Malone coming more to the fore as the set progresses. Leaving the crowd with what has become the band’s signature track 'Staring At The Sun', the vocal interplay between Malone and Adebimpe is measured to perfection, going to show what a couple of year’s practice on the road will do to polish an already exceptional song.