After 85 minutes of ramping up, tearing down and embellishing its own songs, TV on the Radio ended Thursday night’s sold-out show at First Avenue with a remarkably straight and altruistic version of somebody else’s tune. Yep, that somebody’s. And yep, that tune.
Brooklyn’s longest-tenured hipster darling band pulled out “Purple Rain” at the end of its encore -- and pulled it off quite well, too, with co-vocalists Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone swapping parts based on their vocal strengths, and with local singer Nona Marie Invie of opening band Roniia pitching in for the song’s woo-hooh-ooh outro. The cover-song choice was a tad on the predictable side for the adventurous band, but it was believed to be the first time they played it in a decade of appearances at First Ave. It also seemed as much a tribute to the little big man (TVOTR has obvious Prince influences) as it did to the club.
“It’s always an honor, pleasure and privilege to play here,” Adebimpe said at the start of the set, which ended a four-year hiatus for the band in Minnesota – a show that easily could have been in a bigger venue. (The group filled Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheater a few nights before, for instance, and pulled two-nighters the last two times at First Ave in 2011).
The privilege genuinely was the 1,500 fans’. First Ave’s tried-and-true sound system and new lighting rig did the band -- a septet on tour -- a great service, and the lack of seats vs. a theater show was invaluable.
After opening with a prog-rocky update of 2003’s “Young Liars,” the guys started right in on making a strong case for last year’s underrated album “Seeds.” The fast and freaky “Lazerray” got the crowd and the jittery single “Happy Idiot” set off the pogoing and heavy head-bobbing in the crowd, setting the stage for one of the most powerful songs of the night, “Could You,” a melodic and just plain pretty gem that underscored the experimental punk band’s soulful undertones. That one should’ve been the album’s single.
After the older fan fave “Wolf Like Me” and similarly hard-stomping new one “Winter” – both rejiggered with more manic rhythms and frayed guitars – the band turned to a jangly, mellow and almost folky “Seeds” track called “Trouble,” which stands out as maybe the simplest and most overtly positive song in the TVOTR canon. It literally includes the hook, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Anyone who knows what the band went through since its last time in town - including the death of bassist Gerard Smith -- would’ve recognized the deeper roots of the song, though.
“Trouble’s” rise-above/carry-on theme would carry over into the encore with the climactic rocker “Ride,” which made for a great set-up to the frenzied, grinding classics “Dancing Choose” and “Staring at the Sun.” Start to finish, the encore was hair-raisingly riveting. But so was most of the show. More old songs would have been nice, sure, but the seven tracks off “Seeds” proved TVOTR are still cutting bold new ground – and the whole shebang proved it's still entrenched as one of the most captivating live bands around.
Here's Thursday's set list:
Young Liars / Lazerray / Golden Age / Happy Idiot / Could You / Careful You / Winter / Wolf Like Me / Blues From Down Here / Trouble / Forgotten / DLZ ENCORE: Ride / Dancing Choose / Staring at the Sun / Purple Rain