TV on the Radio returned to Madison for a cookie-cutter tour stop in support of last year's list-topping Return to Cookie Mountain. The Brooklyn band's characteristic sound uniquely pairs two voices: a simultaneous growl from lead Tunde Adebimpe and a playful falsetto from Kyp Malone. The complex synergy transmits the passion of spoken word suffused with artistic sentiment and self-effacing intellect.
Before TV took the stage, California's Subtle offered brashly-paced, avant-garde spoken word. The format applied Seventies psychedelia to a children's experimental rock show emceed by Adam Druker's colorful alter ego Doseone, who addressed the crowd as "my friends." His densely abstract lyrics rushed over pounding trip-hop noise in conversation with a classical ivory bust painted with black stripes across its skull. When the serious pace and silly prop-based monologues took a break, the sound was revealed to have a beautiful, stringed-enhanced depth as featured in the intimate "I Love LA."
TV on the Radio started their set with a whistle and the curse of "Young Liars." The space left in the sold-out Orpheum Theater was immediately flooded with a notably fuller and cleaner sound that pulsed with the energetic bouncing of plaid indie culture.
The TVotR concert experience appropriates the wandering navigation and sways of jam culture, the pure sweaty honesty of experimental rock, the rave-inspiring beats of eletronica, and the casual delivery of reggae. Tunde's consistently ambiguous drawl allows him to rhyme the disparate ends of his driving phrases, which are backed by howling vocalizations and forceful beats to motivate the group's indefinable musical swagger.
A perfectly scratched "Dreams" illuminated the group's dirty collage aesthetic. Kyp Malone's bearded mane enlarged his head to at least twice the normal human size, but his performance remained conversely subtle as he casually described dreams as disappointing and fleeting. David Sitek shook wind chimes dangled off the end of his electric guitar and occasionally fell to his knees to grind the guitar into the floor grit while bashing its butt with a baton of sleigh bells. Tunde used a flat-palmed hand to waft the rich "ooohs" away from his face with flailing wrists attached to his meringue hips dexterously directing the audience to bounce like marionettes.
When the group began screaming "Wolf Like Me," the stage's 12-foot barrier between the band and the audience tinged the intensity with a bit of disconnected hopelessness and nostalgia for the Catacombs' understated heyday. But soon a down-tempo organ introduced "Blind," and Tunde's arm flails turned into waves as he playfully stabbed himself with the mic and stumbled off the stage.
Amidst thunderous applause, the band returned for a few more songs that were eclipsed by a dance-y rendition of the classic "Staring at the Sun" shouted into a megaphone. The night's experimental grace sampled passion and true originality, but was defined by a calm confidence that could have sat down and explained itself without raising its voice.