TV on the Radio showed Tuesday night in Denver that one way to outsmart the evergreen debate over whether previously-underground bands lose face or gain respect once they ascend to the cultural mainstream, is to use that elevated platform to flaunt high art to the masses.
These prog-rockers attracted a radio following recently with “Will Do,” the heady, alluring soul-pop single off their fourth studio album “Nine Types of Light,” released earlier this year. This could be one reason for the two-night stand at Denver’s Ogden Theatre. (That the band cancelled its original 2011 Denver date this spring in the wake of bassist Gerard Smith’s death from lung cancer could be another reason.)
But that clichéd hit to an act’s ‘cool factor’ –- mainstream radio play –- has instead infused the art-minded TVOTR with a stronger sense of its weird self. Live, the result is awesome and seductive.
Kicking off a set in which the band played selections from the whole of its decade-long career, TVOTR opened Tuesday with “Halfway Home” while bathed in dreamy purple light and dank smoke. Both effects were well-suited to the song’s clapping rhythms, glam rock vibe, and the smoother side of vocalist Tunde Adepimbe’s entertaining persona, a charm framed as well on stage as it is on screen, a la his turn in the 2008 film “Rachel Getting Married.” On stage, the polar side of that persona is like a performance art seizure.
This show built momentum by showcasing a jazzed-up punk aesthetic in “Second Song.” The band appeased Johnny-Come-Latelies with “Will Do,” and gave a nod to longtime fans with exciting, amped-up takes on “Staring at the Sun” and “Wolf Like Me.”
TVOTR does have a formula: scratchy and melodic, literary lyricism backed by marching rhythms and escalating, electro-rock melodies. They stand alone in today’s pop music landscape but also have an air of nostalgia, like a band that’s arrived at Andy Warhol’s Factory 50 years too late.
At this show, that formula proved enchanting and left many in the crowd wanting more. Lucky for Denver, TVOTR plays the Ogden Theatre again tonight.
Click here for a full photo gallery and review of Day 1.
Elana Ashanti Jefferson is an editor at The Denver Post and a longtime music fan.
Lisa Higginbotham is a Denver photographer and a new contributor to Reverb.