All photos by Timothy Norris. Click image for entire slideshow.
In 1962, at the peak of the Cuban Missile Crisis, James Brown and His Famous Flames stood onstage at Harlem's famed Apollo Theatre and managed to harness the tension that all of America was feeling -- "When will I be blown up?" -- into a performance that became one of the great live albums of all time, Live at the Apollo. Writing in his great book James Brown Live at the Apollo, Douglas Wolk wraps that night in a context. With warheads on their way to Castro's Cuba, Brown and the Flames stood on the stage as part of complicated tangle of history, and in hindsight, seemingly unconnected events reveal themselves through the passing of time to be sewn together. The Manchurian Candidate opened that week in theaters, writes Wolk. "CBS showed a special at 7:30: The Other Face of Dixie, about public school integration in the South. At the Countee Cullen Library at 138th and Lenox a documentary on lunchroom sit-in demonstrations was screen at 8:00. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke at Harvard Law School's Forum on "The Future of Integration."
"Everybody pleased with the choices of earlier in the week?" wondered TV on the Radio's lead singer Tunde Adebimpe last night at the Wiltern, referring to Tuesday's presidential election that brought Barack Obama into power in America, and it was hard not to feel that the Brooklyn band was somehow intertwined with the week, and the year, and the history. The crowd, of course, roared.
TV on the Radio last night sauntered onstage with a big-ass band, nine men strong, and proceeded to pound. Replete with a horn section, the band looked like Earth, Wind and Fire (dressed down on rehearsal day), like Sly and the Family Stone, like a group of fellas working to lasso the moment with sound. They kicked off with "Young Liars," moved into "The Wrong Way," from their 2004 debut, Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes. Adebimpe and guitarist/singer Kyp Malone sang in unison: "Woke up in a magic nigger movie/With the bright lights pointed at me as a metaphor." (That's what I'm talking about.) The horns honked out a weird fill.
The band offered a host of cuts from their new album, Dear Science, tracks that are more overtly rhythmic, body music chained to brain music. "Dancing Choose," a frenetic new track, sounds like "Subterranean Homesick Blues" funneled through Beck. The room bounced along with Adebimpe (whose tippy-toe pogo hops are totally infectious), held their fists up and moved as one. They clapped complicated patterns, felt complicated emotions. I've never seen the Wiltern as crowded as it was last night, one big beast of celebration, a big-ass Thursday night party in the middle of a very good week.
The band could have played a little longer. They were running a little late, and with the Wiltern's midnight curfew, their main set was maybe 50 minutes, max. They returned for three encores: After "Crying," a bunch of people walked onto the stage, including the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner and Karen O, who grabbed hand-percussion instruments while TV on the Radio began "A Method," from 2006's Return to Cookie Mountain:
There's a purple pain strangling yesterday
There's a purple stain spattered on interstates
It's an awkward stage grasping at anything
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Cause it's lost the page
Can't find a word to say
But they want you to
It's hard to read those lyrics and not think of red states, blue states and their convergence in purple, tough to look at a predominantly black rock band mesmerizing a sold-out, largely white crowd and not feel a certain amount of ... metaphor. Or maybe that's just me. Regardless, TV on the Radio closed with "Staring at the Sun," and the Wiltern lifted up off of its foundation, sprouted wings and floated over the ocean. Beat the skins and let the loose lips kiss you clean, indeed.