Live review: TV on the Radio
TV on the Radio’s performance Thursday at the Wiltern had an unexpected physical effect on the band’s fans. With each new blast of punky, soulful, arty music, the revelers near the stage leaned back as if pushed by an unseen gale. So much was happening in this music -- blasting guitar, synthesizer effects, flutes and horns and wind chimes -- that each song arose as if from a series of little storms, all of it hiting the crowd like a deluge.
Everyone seemed thrilled to be soaked with sound, including Tunde Adebimpe, the Brooklyn-based group’s charismatic frontman. Though he’s found minor movie stardom as the groom in Jonathan Demme’s “Rachel Getting Married,” Adebimpe remains an off-kilter idol: bespectacled, gangly and prone to yelping. As he lurched around flapping his elbows, his voice jumping from rough declamations to smooth falsetto, Adebimpe was a funnel for the tumult of the music.
His foil was fellow vocalist Kyp Malone, waggish but calm as he played guitar and harmonized in his earthy warble. If Adebimpe embodied the side of TVOTR that’s about throwing in more sounds than any set of ears can handle, Malone projected other aspects -- the band’s ever-evolving maturity, and the care it takes in building what seems like a maelstrom.
Augmented by a multi-tasking horn section featuring Antibalas’ Stuart Bogie, who also played some percussion, the five members of TVOTR turned a powerful but brainy studio sound into something raw and irreverently spiritual. The set leaned heavily on songs from the band's fantastic third album, “Dear Science,” while reaching as far back as their first 2003 EP. Some songs were fast and confrontational; others evolved slowly, blending keyboard effects with guitar and Jaleel Bunton’s steady, egoless drumming.
The focus kept shifting among the band’s members (and those horn players, especially the dramatically happy Bogie), but not in the usual, solo-driven rock way. By stressing collaboration and community, TVOTR inspired the audience to embrace an earnest sense of togetherness. That exultation in community recalled another current indie favorite, Arcade Fire. Both groups have somehow distilled the essence of hippie idealism while freeing themselves of that movement’s dated trappings.
Keeping a punk edge helps. Rants like “Dancing Choose” -- a mostly shouted diatribe against the delusions of mass media -– punctuated the set, keeping the energy level high. And the wind chimes that guitarist and producer David Sitek had tied to his guitar headstock were both a musical touch and a visual prank, turning a favorite hippie relaxation tool into a noisemaker.
The band even found a way to revive the New Age cliché of the drum circle by inviting the night’s opening act, garage rockers the Dirtbombs, onstage to clang on percussion instruments during the encore. Adebimpe and Malone wailed and the dozen or so players onstage banged away, but behind it all, Bunton and keyboardist Gerard Smith built a gentle, almost elegiac counterpoint. Beauty in chaos: It’s still a combination that can blow listeners away.
-- Ann Powers
Photo: TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe, seen last month in New Orleans. Courtesy Getty Images.