Tom Verlaine shuffles on to the stage of this small basement club with as little ceremony as possible. He proceeds to tune up for a while, in front of a crowd of older men who remember his great years, and reverently cheer for the next two hours. Though this year's Songs and Other Things is his first new work in 14 years, Verlaine is never in danger of being forgotten, because of his days in Television, and their one deathless album, Marquee Moon (1978). Along with Patti Smith and Television's pre-Moon leader Richard Hell, he was part of the bohemian poet wing of New York punk's gestating days, living a dissolute writer's life in Bowery squalor.
Marquee Moon's frigid, glistening guitar lines, shared by Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, made both guitar gods when the idea was punk rock heresy. But a disappointing follow-up led to their split and a solo career for Verlaine, an increasingly underground affair that slowed to a stop in 1992. In the years since, when not gigging with the reformed Television or Smith, Verlaine has scribbled and taped, not quite finishing things.
Unlike Hell,Verlaine can't bring himself to retire. So, with his long-time accomplice Jimmy Rip on second guitar, he starts to slide his fingers up and down his own guitar's neck, affecting cool electronic sustains, theremin-style shivers and psychedelic ragas. The crowd shush anyone daring to talk. In this way it's more like a jazz gig. But when Verlaine sings, he still conjures ghosts of his poet-punk youth. It's a reedy, sardonic, sometimes hectoring voice, suiting his disaffected, distantly beautiful lyrics. "Empty-handed, I awoke/ Just when there's so much at stake," he laments on "Souvenir from a Dream".
"Little Johnny Jewel", taken as a polka, then returns him to Television's earliest days, and the careless, wondrous, near-suicidal life that he and Hell led: "They ran down into the trainyard, three days without sleep... wake up dreaming, dreaming, or maybe not at all."
"Kingdom Come" describes addiction, internal cages and small rooms closing in like traps. More pertinently to Verlaine tonight, it ends in a fast but dull guitar flourish that gets a huge cheer.
There's one song from Marquee Moon near the end, "Prove It", played with the rhythm and feel of Ben E King's "Stand By Me". The crowd are too hip, or overawed, to ask for more. The encore offers barely plucked little riffs, chops and slashes, whole movements within a song; jazz complexity inside a garage-rock chassis, Verlaine's specialty. It's been engrossing and unexciting; poetic memories of risk-taking, minus the risk itself.Reuse content