SMITH & TELEVISION
In terms of New York punk legend, this three disc collection is more or less the Holy Grail, the sound of the scene's two most consistently intriguing performers, side by side across a two month (March/April 1975) weekend residency at CBGBs - shows that made a legend of the club, and stars in waiting of the acts. Written reports of the shows that tore out of the Bowery that season were describing them as epochal before anyone even dreamed what the epoch might turn out to be; hindsight can only applaud those commentators' foresight, and be grateful that, one night at least, the tapes were rolling.
Across three CDs, every song that subsequently accompanied Smith and Television to glory receives a primal, and near-definitive rendering. Yes, "Marquee Moon" is a little clumsy in places; sure, "Space Monkey" could have been tighter. But you can sense the sweat pouring down the walls, the floor-to-ceiling congestion that packed the narrow bar, and the manic determination with which the two bands confronted the potential that everyone said they possessed, before they transformed it into a tangible asset.
With three sets to play, both bands are forced to repeat and reprise themselves, but the similarity of the track listing across the three discs should not put you off. From an archaeological point of view, there is so much here to treasure, with Television's first set littered with titles that fell from view before most people got to hear the band, and Smith's third an eccentric melding of down-tempo poetics and occasional originals.
But far more important is the mood that is conveyed across the discs. Like hearing an audience recording of a very early Sex Pistols show, or Syd's Pink Floyd before Emily started playing, this is an experience, not a simple recording, a warts and all veritie rendering which even captures the sound of the surreptitious taper, wondering whether his microphone is working.
Smith's poetic interludes
are spellbinding, Verlaine's guitar is incendiary, and it really doesn't
matter that the intro to "Poor Circulation" would one day be grafted onto
"Torn Curtain," or that "Redondo Beach" is taken so fast that it almost
out-discos "Heart Of Glass." You can't quite smell the toilets or taste
the cheap beer, but if you switch off your air conditioning, and go stand
by the cat's litter tray, this set is so real that the last 31 years just
rewound altogether. -
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