TV on the Radio is at the top of their game. In the years since releasing their debut album Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, they have continually grown, experimenting with various sounds from prog to rock to world to jazz. TVOTR is a critics' darling and has grown up with the ever-present hipster scene stretching from Williamsburg to Wicker Park to Silver Lake. They have never been afraid to buck trends, instead creating a path and sound that is uniquely their own. The harmonic vocal interplay between singers Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone is enhanced by the experimental sounds of producer/multi-instrumentalist Dave Sitek.
Last night they brought their most polished game to a sold-out crowd at the Riviera Theater where singer Katrina Ford of Baltimore-based band Celebration and a cadre of local brass players joined them on stage for the show's entirety. TVOTR warmed slowly, starting the show by lightly massaging the crowd with a haunting "Young Liars" from the band's first-ever EP before launching into "The Wrong Way" -- a nice surprise early on to kick things up a notch. Dozens of stringed lights hung from the ceiling behind the band, creating an effect mirroring Radiohead's tour earlier this year. But where Radiohead's lights were stories high, TVOTR's felt more organic, even warmer. The lights -- along with the additional players on stage -- gave the show a feeling of heightened emotion, tying the band and crowd infinitely closer (although you wouldn't have known from some of the too-cool-for-school kids standing still in the crowd).
Normally, TVOTR tour without any real light show, but this jaunt they're realizing, possibly, that they are a group meant for bigger things. Their latest release, Dear Science, will join the ranks of their debut and follow up, Return to Cookie Mountain, on year-end best-of lists. The music is so layered and pulls from various arenas that it's almost puritanical at its core. There's a new passion behind the music, and it revealed itself on stage with the tight instrumentation and musical camaraderie. I've seen them a number of times in disparate settings -- in Brooklyn at a free show in Prospect Park; at Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza; and at the Metro. No matter where they are, they are a cohesive unit with a singular voice. The have no gimmicks. Their music and talents are their tricks of choice -- and by constantly following their collective heart, they continue to expand and mature, coming close to breaking through to the mainstream, but staying ever so comfortably on the cusp.
Tonight's set was peppered with songs from each album, including the playful "Shout Me Out" and dreamscapy "Stork & Owl" -- both off Dear Science. The one-two punch of "Halfway Home" (one of the strongest tracks off their newest release) and "Wolf Like Me" provided a mid-set energy that took the crowd, well, halfway home. When the set ended a little more than an hour in, obvious absences were standout tracks like "Dreams" and "Family Tree." However, the band returned for a four song encore, capping things off with a rousing version of the song that first put them on the map: "Staring at the Sun." All in all, TVOTR finally seem comfortable in their rock band skin and may soon cross over. But even if they don't, they'll continue to make great music and we'll keep on appreciating whatever they throw our way.
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