Tom Verlaine is easily the most talented guitarist of the recent punk-New Wave movement. Too bad he can't sing.
At the 9:30 Club last night, his guitar work inventively combined the melodic agility of '60s guitarists with the irreverent assault of punk. He created a powerful march beat and continuously subverted it with fractured off-rhythms. Unfortunately, he betrayed his instrumental innovations and his ambitious lyrics with a flat, nasal, exceptionally uninteresting voice.
As Minnesota's Bob Zimmerman came to Manhattan and became Bob Dylan, Delaware's Tom Miller arrived in New York and became Tom Verlaine. Verlaine formed Television, which helped launch the 1976 punk explosion. Now he leads a talented quartet that features Television bassist Fred Smith and Kid Creole guitarist Jim Ripp. Last night Verlaine and Ripp pushed each other further and further on spectacular guitar breaks that contained both nuance and power. But then they'd return to the soporific vocals.
Opening the show was Tommy Keene, whose songs made much simpler statements. His surging guitar phrases built his songs surely from stage-setting verses to climactic choruses. The structure was given an urgency by drummer Doug Tull and bassist Ted Niceley (Keene's former partners in Razz and guitarist Michael Colburn's former partners in Nightman). Unfortunately, the lyrics were not nearly as compelling as the music, and Keene overused melodramatic echo.