TV on Radio : Oslo Hackney Review

There are few things more disconcerting than watching a grown man cry, not least midway through a song. Yet here we are watching TV on the Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe finish a song, remove his hat and rub his eyelids raw, moments before leaving the stage ahead of the encore. His reaction is understandable: this is the first London show since the band’s bass player, Gerard Smith, died three years ago, aged 36, of lung cancer.

Olso Hackney

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TV on the Radio: Nine Types of Light Album Review

When TV on the Radio emerged from Brooklyn in 2001, it sounded like the future. After all, most of us were still weekending in Manhattan; this was Brooklyn before craft beer

and HBO’s Girls. Although, looking back, theirs was a sound very much conceived by that whole scene, swept up in its wave of fun, skittish indie hits so efficiently deployed by the Strokes, and later the Walkmen. What set TVOTR apart was the production. All over the musical map, they have always been impossible to sum up – I had a pop once, with “a club sandwich of art-rock-jazz-funk-doo-wop”, and sounded like something from Pseuds Corner. But it didn’t matter. From the off, thanks to the effective use of producer Dave Sitek’s Pro Tools production skills, this was easy to dance to. By the time they’d released debut album Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes in 2004, TVOTR were made.

Ten years later and they’re performing live in London again. The choice of venue – a newish bar in Hackney, London’s own Brooklyn, a place replete with red cups and fancy small plates – feels like an odd choice. It’s nice and clean, but small and too hot for a big band with a big, sweaty, plaid-y following. Then again, it means the crowd are fans, and this one is very much for us.

Adebimpe is a vision in posh glasses and neon (welcome to your 30s) earplugs, an all-dancing mass of yoga arms and trilby. Pity the guy ordering a beer at the bar during the opening track, 2001’s Young Liars, that slow-burning, well-paced triumphant march about the terror of loveless sex: “Fucking for fear of not wanting to fear again.” The room groans pleasingly as they erupt into it with thrilling energy, and it provides an excellent platform for Adebimpe’s vocals, which it should be said sound better live.

While their performance is controlled, these are also men who have loved and lost. Scratch the surface and you’ll find universal themes of heartbreak and vulnerability. In keeping with this paradox comes the anthemic Happy Idiot, a song about the ignorance of bliss. It’s a nice platform for co-vocalist Kyp Malone: “I’m a happy idiot to keep my mind off you” he sings, gently but knowingly, from stage right. Woe is Kyp.

Dear Science, TV on the Radio’s 2008 follow-up to 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain, felt edgier, slicker, confirming their place as a smart band for smart people, and tonight provides the real meat of the set. It was also released at an interesting time with America in a state of political flux. Obama was about to be sworn in, after an election that was fought notably on the internet. The forthcoming album Seeds, though good, feels like a huge departure from this style – it’s indie in comparison. The recognisable TVOTR is still there though – gospel, doo-wop and Sitek’s urgent production most notably heard on Careful You, a sure-fire hit with its cutesy French lyrics.

The crowd goes berserk for DLZ, their great big angry hit about trying and failing to control that hideous post-breakup period, and which was used in the second series of Breaking Bad, presumably because it compares breakups with oxidisation.

The most consistent thing about their sound has been the background synth-fuzz that forms the stock of their soup and, accordingly, they end with Staring at the Sun, their synth-fuzz hit. I think it’s their best, even if it is their albatross, and makes a fitting end to a set imbued with nostalgia.

Tears aside, the death of Smith is most notable in the absence of songs from 2011’s Nine Types of Light. Of course, three years is a normal break for any group. You probably can’t even call it a hiatus. Still, to see them live at all, functioning brilliantly and engaging with the audience with perfect zip and fizz as they do, feels nothing short of momentous.

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