There’s every reason in the world to think TV on the Radio will suck live. For one thing, their records sound too good to pull off on stage. Every track in the band’s catalog so far - especially on their newly released major-label debut Return to Cookie Mountain - is a dense, lush soundscape layered against glassy, repetitive guitar vamps and drums that throb like a heartbeat. Their sound is a brew of shoegazer rock, noise, psychedelia, trip hop, and barbershop harmonies that sounds urgent and dreamy all at once. It's odd music. At times it's instantly gorgeous, at other times it irritates itself into your brain and waits for you to wrap your ears around it, which you will - whether you like it or not. All of this makes for great headphone records, but studio savvy too rarely equals onstage magnetism.

In front of a capacity audience at Chicago’s Metro, the band proved to be the exception to the rule. They had the chops to pull off much of the atmosphere that has brought them such acclaim, but, more importantly, they were smart enough to strip most of their arrangements down, making sure the audience felt the songs, instead of slavishly recreating every note from the records.

The band’s greatest virtue is that Tunde Adebimpe is their frontman. The indie rock universe is loaded with magnetic vocalists, but few quite like him. His phrasing and rich tones - combined with the upper register harmony of guitarist Kyp Malone - are so distinctive that they become portable, making older songs with more visceral stage arrangements instantly recognizable. This freed the band to air the tunes out and focus on blowing the roof off. Adebimpe wasn’t as much a performer as he was a conduit for the music to pass through on its way to the audience. He danced, and shook, and flailed wildly, as if he had zero control and the crowd ate it up. The shimmers and bumps of TV on the Radio, "Studio Artisans," gave way to the intense celebratory energy of TV on the Radio, "Explosive Live Band".

TV on the Radio’s hold over the room was most evident when opening act Grizzly Bear -a band that has acquired a good studio sense, but didn’t fully connect with the Metro audience - joined them onstage to close the show with Cookie Mountain’s “Let the Devil In”. As they grabbed sleigh bells and tambourines (or whatever else happened to be lying around), they got sucked into the headliner’s vortex, and, by association, they too became electrifying to watch. The show closed out not so much as an indie-rock jam session, but as a testimony of the power of joyful noise.


All opinions expressed by Wayne Graham are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

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