Rock stars come in all forms, as evident by the loose, casual, shades-and-blazer performance of Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew last night and the taut, thrusting spectacle of TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe in head-to-toe black. Each sat at the head of their ships at Williamsburg Waterfront, steering their masses of sound—these aren’t exactly minimalist bands—into anthemic, surging moments. But there were also times each company fell short of hefty expectations.
For all their avant-rock seriousness, TVOTR have an awful lot of fast, fun songs to their name, with millions of little oddities stuck throughout, whether it’s zoot-suit trumpets at the end of “Dancing Choose” or Kyp Malone’s staccato non-words bouncing off Adebimpe’s bellows. The way “Repetition” propels forward and “Staring at the Sun” zigzags across space don’t make for your basic run-of-the-mill melodies. Neither are Broken Social Scene’s, who, plagued with a misfortune 6:30pm set time, managed the best they could to rally those who got off work in time. They infused saxophones into an airy cover of Modest Mouse’s “The World at Large,” they proved woozy pop can be turned downright noisy, they expanded their core six-or-seven-piece band (a lot of fresh young faces this time around) with up to 13 players at times, complete with a trademark brass section. But even when the sky turned neon orange in the distance and they embarked on the racing, combusting, all-hands-on-deck instrumental “Meet Me in the Basement,” circumstance won out. It’s difficult to build a connection with a crowd when they’re spread thin over a large space, even for a band known for their life-affirming abilities.
People had packed in tighter, though by no means to full capacity, by the time TVOTR took the stage. The band sounded great—loud, urgent and forceful, giving the impression of a single, pulsing unit. But for all that fun, fast material up their sleeves, they don’t look like they’re having fun playing. That’s not to say they’re stoic up there — every move Adebimpe makes, every word he sings, is with purpose — but there’s a sense that they reject certain impulses. They’re always a little too much in control. This, of course, could be argued to their advantage. Caring about craft and high-impact delivery enough to prohibit themselves from getting caught up in live-show gimmicks might not be such a bad thing.
As if to prove the point, Adebimpe, after pausing to dedicate the show to deceased bassist Gerard Smith, begins to whistle a melody. When it eventually breaks into a hopped-up version of “Young Liars,” his body goes noodly while the stage explodes in colored lights. He’s in the moment you feel, and it elevates everything within his radius to the next level. Again, at the end, during decade-topping “Wolf Life Me,” he can’t get the words out fast enough or loud enough, forcing every ounce of energy out of him to try. It’s spellbinding to watch. With the skyrocketing lights from the 9/11 memorial looming across the way, everything finally falls into place. If TV on the Radio is how the Brooklyn music scene will be remembered 20 years from now, that won’t be such a bad thing.