Hollywood burned the day TV on the Radio came to town, a fact that didn’t escape the band. Midway through performing to a sold-out Henry Fonda Theater, Kyp Malone, guitarist and helium-voiced harmonist, commented almost giddily upon the blaze. All told, more than 150 acres of the arid Hollywood Hills were scorched by brushfire, venturing perilously close to the iconic titular sign perched atop. As day turned to dusk, a hazy smoke still blanketed the hills, and if for only a day the skies weren’t as indifferent as the earth beneath: Inevitably, the denizens of Los Angeles carried on as though it were business as usual.
The notion of maintaining your self while surrounded by destruction and uncertainty is a theme that permeates TV on the Radio’s music. As Tunde Adebimpe sang onstage, “Suddenly, all your history’s ablaze/ Try to breathe, as the world disintegrates” from the searingly tender “Province,” it became clear that this is a group that can appreciate the inseparable beauty and danger that any fire may bring.
Over the past year or two, TV on the Radio has visited Los Angeles often, though mostly in a supporting capacity, opening for Franz Ferdinand and Massive Attack. Although the Noisettes proved a most complementary warm-up act, this night TV on the Radio was front and center, and the opportunity was made for Southern California to celebrate the success of last year’s Return to Cookie Mountain, a release that arrived with almost suffocating hype and that has hovered for months in the rock ‘n’ roll ether without any substantial backlash.
Emboldened by their unlikely It-band status, TV on the Radio whirled through a soundly constructed set list, starting plaintive and hunched over with “Tonight,” ramping up with a taut “Young Liars” and then uncorking a blitzkrieg version of “The Wrong Way.” The band repeated this build-and-release construct for the remainder of the show.
Wearing their New York City aesthetic on their sleeve, the members of TV on the Radio had no interest in primping and posing for their audience. At once gangly and graceful, Adebimpe’s spastic onstage persona is deeply channeled and, to my eyes, authentic. Malone and Dave Sitek, the guitarist and producer who resembles Rivers Cuomo with a Gold’s Gym membership, share the front of the stage with Adebimpe, but they let their lead singer provide all extroversion. Their concentration on the music itself is so intense that they can’t help but engage the crowd, a marked split between a subset of Angelenos who were actively disappointed that the members of TV on the Radio weren’t more “cool” and those who took for granted that they were probably the coolest guys in the house. Adebimpe’s possessed flailings and hops were the subject of mockery amongst the more detached observers sitting in the upper balcony, but those pressed toward the stage remained blissfully unaware that anyone else existed behind or around them.
What was ultimately so striking about TV on the Radio’s show was how firmly embraced such a challenging band could be. They have the luxury of making music their way, connecting with an audience willing to follow them through the smoke and see what’s on the other side.