Tom Miller and Richard Hell were friends as teen-agers in Hockessin, Delaware. They separately moved to New York City in the early 1970s, both aspiring to be poets. Miller changed his name to Tom Verlaine, after the 19th century French poet, Paul-Marie Verlaine. In 1972, the reunited friends formed the Neon Boys, a trio consisting of Verlaine on guitar and vocals, Hell on bass and vocals, and Billy Ficca on drums. In 1973, the group evolved into Television and added Richard Lloyd as a second guitarist. The band became regulars on New York's burgeoning punk rock scene at CBGB's and Max's Kansas City. Hell left the group in 1975 and was replaced by Fred Smith, briefly of Blondie. Television split after the release of a second album in 1978, reforming briefly in 1992 for an eponymous third album and a 1993 world concert tour. Television regrouped again in 2001, and performed sporadically. Lloyd left the band in 2007, and was replaced by Jimmy Rip. Television continues to perform live on an irregular basis.
At Irving Plaza tonight, Television proved to be the granddaddy of the indie movement. Just when the set started to sound a bit polished, Verlaine and Rip ripped into jarring, atonal and dissonant guitar licks. Verlaine's tenor voice sounded less strangulated than in olden days, perhaps because he was now singing less in favor of longer guitar jams. The frequently extended instrumental sections roared and soared, providing color and intrigue to an anchor of heady lyrics and steady rhythms. Television performed seven of the eight tracks on its debut album, "1880 or So" from the third album, the band's first single, "Little Johnny Jewel (Parts 1 & 2)," and an unrecorded song entitled "Persia" that has been in the band's live set for some time. The songs generously took their sweet time. Television ended its main set with a 13-minute jam on "Marquee Moon," and returned for a six-minute encore of "I'm Gonna Find You." Television was an original 40 years ago and although it has not released new music in more than 20 years, the band's unique sound remained relevant today. The loose but intense musicianship on these old songs kept them sounding fresh. The world needs new music from Television, however.