It’s mostly happenstance that Television got called a punk band, but while they were scene figureheads during the punk explosion in downtown Manhattan in the mid- to late ’70s, the music made by the virtuosic, jam-heavy quartet is even farther from the punk genre than that of their peers Blondie and Talking Heads. Television did share some roots with American punk, though, when guitarist Tom Verlaine, bassist Richard Hell, and drummer Billy Ficca first started as the Neon Boys in 1972. Hell departed, along with most of the band’s punk DNA, and newly added bassist Fred Smith and guitarist Richard Lloyd turned the renamed Television into an ambitious, interlocking machine centered on Verlaine’s lyrics, which were influenced by the Decadent and Symbolism movements (born Thomas Miller, Verlaine took his stage name from the 19th-century French poet).
Two remarkable albums followed—1977’s astonishing-to-this-day Marquee Moon, one of the best albums ever recorded by an American rock band, and 1978’s Adventure, a more than worthy effort that nevertheless falls in Marquee Moon’s impressive shadow. Songs like “See No Evil” and “Venus” are tightly constructed works that demonstrate the power of precisely composed lines of melody and counterpoint when transposed to a snarling rock format; the interplay of Lloyd and Verlaine’s guitars rarely lapses into slab-handed riffing but instead deliberately functions like a supercharged game of tennis. Ideas are shuttled back and forth, notes are cracked across the net, and fluid guitar runs move at varying velocities between the two.
And then there’s “Marquee Moon.” The epic title track from their tour de force debut is a total paradox—an indulgent, excessive meander through horror-movie imagery and stream-of-consciousness navel-gazing with multiple guitar solos that nevertheless is a breathtaking, edge-of-your-seat thriller, hooking you deeper and deeper with each one of its 10 crucial minutes. Television broke up in 1978, but have reunited intermittently in the ensuing decades; this visit to Portland—which, according to the internet, is their first since playing the Earth Tavern in 1978—sees guitarist Jimmy Rip (of Paul Collins and the Beat) taking Lloyd’s spot. With rumors of new songs and “Marquee Moon” all but guaranteed in the setlist, this is an unmissable event.