I find it near impossible to sum up the sound of TV On The Radio and when I try to think of an equivalent in order to aid my description I find myself stumped. But one thing I did discover in the majestical surroundings of Camden's Koko was that with two and a half albums strong this Brooklyn 5-piece know exactly who they are and what they are doing.
With it's numerous balconies dripping in ornate decoration and rising skyward to a huge revolving glitterball, Koko is a venue like no other and the view from the stage must either thrill or daunt any band. The addictive thing about TV On The Radio is their grasp of restraint. Their sound is so complex and threatens to explode but rarely does so I was interested to discover how this style would cope with a venue such as this. Dirty Whirl, a highlight from the new album Return To Cookie Mountain crept in humbly with hushed atmospheric sampling and front man Tunde Adebimpe's sweet whistling. This built up slowly and then the band unleashed their sound. It was the sound of twenty men and it was awesome. Adebimpe is the lynch pin to the dazzling show TV On The Radio offer. His theatrical dancing, thorough exploration of the space around him and inexhaustible passion and energy is electrifying and like nothing I have seen before. And his voice, well damn that boy can sing. Often constructing beautiful harmonies with guitarist and vocalist Kyp Malone, Adebimpe's voice more than filled the hall.
The stage seemed cluttered with the various machines that make this sound so unique. The standard drums, guitars and vocals are all fed through samplers, loops and distortions to produce a wall of sound that is oozing with texture. As expected Wolf Like Me was an instant highlight. As the only drum heavy, rock-out tune on the album this is as close as this band come to a standard song, so for it to emerge crisp and triumphant from the murky bog of noise was a delight to which the hungry crowd responded accordingly. Earlier songs like Young Liars were treated to the same extended format with the music slowly fading away to leave Adebimpe's exposed vocals to bring it to a close.
Not all the songs worked with the live treatment and this is due to the intricate subtleties that are so important to their sound not to mention the obvious sound problems experienced by Kyp Malone. I Was A Lover opens the new album with such hollow beauty, but that was lost here. The dense texture that is crafted around this song simply swallowed up the vocals reducing them to just another element in this texture. But this was a minor complaint and was soon forgotten as a free standing bass drum was brought on to the stage to herald the start of Let The Devil In. This was pounded on by at least two other band members as the crowd were encouraged to sing along. Adebimpe opened the song with dulcet vocals only to produce a mega-phone which he proceeded to shriek into as more and more previously unnoticed musicians joined the stage beating a myriad of cymbals, drums, tamborines, you name it. The result was a near tribal stampede of sound that refused to stop. It built and built to epic proportions and launched this gig into memorable territory.
After the dazzling My Morning Jacket show in September I got to thinking, "What separates the good gigs from the great gigs?" I have seen many a great band showcase their back catalogue with expert precision but have often been left feeling slightly flat. These gigs were as good as their albums, but the great gigs go further and make you feel like you are witnessing something specific to this moment, something spontaneously crafted and bigger than the music. This is what was happening at Koko that night, a live event that would be lost in any other format. All too often I leave a very enjoyable gig but mentally tick that band as 'done', the opposite was the case here and as I emerged from my grand surroundings into a rainy night I hoped this would not be the last would see of TV On The Radio.