Saturday, March 17, 2007

Savoring, Savaging: TV On The Radio and Subtle

It was almost like being back in Chicago--a theater filled with the preciously overdressed, the out-of-towners, and the invisible in-betweens. Even once you've been to a lot of shows, you realize that this combination of heat and noise is still rare and exciting, and that you're not so different from the people who mistakenly clap when the roadies come on. TV On The Radio basically sold out the Orpheum Theatre in Madison on Friday night, and the band skipped Wisconsin, I think, on its last tour leg--the all-too-familiar Chicago-to-Minneapolis jaunt that many bands I want to see make. But TVOTR still played like a band that had just exploded out of Brooklyn, looking and sounding foreign but quickly getting familiar on a primal level.

Dave Sitek hung a set of wind chimes from the head of his guitar and dangled them over the drum mics as he and Kyp Malone scrubbed out furious chords behind Tunde Adebimpe on the opener, "Young Liars." It's a climactic song, and this is a band that can start at the climax and stay there for an entire set. During the encore, four members of Subtle, who are opening for TVOTR on this leg, came on to pound on extra percussion, making for an amazing, nearly all-percussion version of "Let The Devil In." It's one of the most exuberant songs they've ever recorded, and a perfect example of what's best about TVOTR's music--no matter how exotic it gets, it's never that far from your gut.

TVOTR's warmth was even easier to notice after Subtle's opening set, all whimsical theatrics, complete with props. If you're going to sound as unusual as Sutble, you might as well follow through and look and act strange. MC/mastermind Doseone bounced between center stage and his little bank of gadgets, warming up the crowd with assorted jokes and plastic-fork giveaways. Of course, this is a college town full of hip hop-loving white kids, so a strong flow gets a guy a long way, even if he's playing with five other guys, including a cellist. As Doseone sputtered through his blank-verse lyrics with the precision of a snide computer-talk program, it was surreal to think that he used to battle-rap against guys like Eminem. Subtle's music isn't that hard to connect with if you're willing to embrace the confusion, and it has a fantastic sense of humor--"Midas Gutz," from the group's last album, For Hero: For Fool, imagines a beauty contest in which people cut themselves open and compare intestines for the prize.

I hadn't seen Subtle before, but it is kind of sad to see the group without Dax Pierson, who was paralyzed from the chest down when the band's van crashed during a 2005 tour. He's been recovering with the support of friends and fans in the Bay Area and elsewhere. The band also got robbed of about $15,000 worth of money and equipment in Spain last year, and, at least until recently, Doseone was raising money by drawing portraits (from photos sent by fans). A friend of mine got one done and it's rather nifty.