TELEVISION wasn't simply a piece of the CBGB scene; it was the New York club's starting point. In 1974, after convincing owner Hilly Kristal to allow them to play there, singer-guitarist Tom Verlaine, guitarist Richard Lloyd and their bandmates helped build the stage that later hosted Patti Smith, the Ramones and many others.
Despite many connections to other CBGB acts -- bassist Fred Smith left Blondie to join the group, and Verlaine played on Patti Smith's debut album -- Television was always a band apart. While the Ramones popularized the "Blitzkrieg Bop" and Blondie and Talking Heads danced toward the mainstream, Television played an ethereal sort of garage rock, with long, lyrical guitar passages that led some purists to dismiss the quartet as "the punk Grateful Dead." The band scored hits in Britain, but American commercial success was a lost cause. In 1978, after two studio albums and fewer than five years together, Television turned itself off.
One cause for the split was tension between Verlaine and Lloyd. (As a solo performer, Verlaine continued to work with Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca.) So it came as a surprise when the foursome reunited in 1992 for a third studio album and its most extensive U.S. tour. Then Television vanished again.
"It wasn't planned as a hit-and-run," says Lloyd of the 1992-93 reunion. "We all got back together and we all committed to it. And then all sorts of other things happened, like the record company [Capitol] falling apart. And it just kind of came to a halt."
Television assembled once again in 2001 to play an annual British avant-rock festival, All Tomorrow's Parties. This time, the reunion stuck. "We've been playing shows together for about two years, really quite regularly," explains Lloyd by phone from New York. "It's just that they've been all over the world and sporadic. There's no reason to mount a concerted 50-city tour of the United States. So we pick and choose the dates we want to do."
Monday's show at the 9:30 club is one of just four in a series of East Coast gigs. But the band will play "a couple of dates in Spain" in May, and will probably add a few more European shows to that jaunt.
Lloyd concedes that "the fewer dates you're going to do, the more you have to rehearse. The more that you have to make sure that you've got the flow going. But we've been playing together for what, 25, 30 years? Off and on. So the musical intuition and interactive decision-making that takes place in a good musical ensemble is there."
Although rumors circulated that the band's two guitarists feuded during the 1993 tour, Lloyd says those gigs proceeded amicably. "Otherwise, I don't think we'd be playing now. I think now is almost a direct result of that reunion. It's not like we disbanded again. We just kind of came to an end and we went our separate ways."
Although Television's albums are still in print, the band and its members certainly haven't issued much product lately. In 2001, Lloyd released "The Cover Doesn't Matter," his first studio album since 1985. Verlaine's most recent new solo material is 1992's "Warm and Cool," an album of terse instrumentals. ("Spiritual," a 2001 collaboration with the Kronos Quartet that appeared on the soundtrack to a barely released film "Big Bad Love," is a reworking of a piece from that disc.) "The Miller's Tale," a 1996 import-only anthology whose title refers to Verlaine's original surname, includes a few rarities, including "The Revolution," a previously unreleased track from Television's 1992 sessions.
Even though the band has not been fruitful lately, its current shows don't draw solely from its three studio albums. "We've got a bunch of new songs, and we usually play a few of them," Lloyd says. "If you play too many new songs, you lose people. And we're also doing some older songs that haven't seen the light of day in a long time. From way, way back."
"When you consider that the band only has three official records, there's not a lot of catalogue. So it's good to have other stuff."
"I think any musician is most interested in new material," the guitarist adds. "You've got to do new stuff to keep yourself interested. Not that older stuff isn't interesting, too."
Television is planning a live album, which it will probably release by itself. ("That seems to work these days," Lloyd says.) A studio album is also possible. "We've talked about it, but we haven't done any recording yet."
In an interview before Television played the District in 1993, Verlaine stated that he was out of touch with contemporary music, but did sometimes hear new songs when he went to shoe stores. A decade later, Lloyd sings a similar refrain.
"Personally, I don't listen to music," he says. "My record player broke in '75. I didn't get a new one, because I figured they'd come up with something better than vinyl discs. And then came the cassette, and I had a cassette player, but I didn't want to buy music on cassette. So then the CD came out, but they were horrible when they first came out, so I didn't have one of those for a long time. I do have a CD player now. I own a bunch of CDs, but I don't buy them.
"If you saturate a sponge with liquid," he continues, "there comes a moment when you can't get any more into it. When I became a professional musician, I decided I'd rather squeeze the sponge than put anything more into it. I still hear stuff. I hear it on TV and the radio, and people turning me on to things. But I don't have a drive to hear new music."
He laughs. "But I don't visit very many shoe stores, so I probably miss a lot of the music Tom's listening to."
TELEVISION -- Appearing Monday at the 9:30 club. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Television, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8122. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)