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02 août 2007

Pittsburgh-rooted TV on the Radio returns as one of rock's most acclaimed and innovative acts

Few reviews went past without comparing Adebimpe to Peter Gabriel. "You know, it's better than being compared to Phil Collins" ...

The story of TV on the Radio begins in a crowded loft in the bohemian center of Williamsburg, N.Y. But before and after that, there were two critical coffeehouse encounters, one of which was at the late Oakland Beehive.

TV on the Radio: Kyp Malone, left, Gerard Smith,
Jaleel Bunton, Dave Sitek and Tunde Adebimpe.

That's where Tunde Adebimpe first met Kyp Malone in the early '90s. Although nothing came out of it initially, it laid the groundwork for the two former Pittsburghers to become the co-frontmen for TV on the Radio, a band widely considered to be at the forefront of whatever innovation rock has left.

At a time when people say everything has been done, TV on the Radio has come along with something no one can easily label -- an aggressive mix that blends the vocals of two would-be soulmen with tape loops, drones, tribal percussion and churning indie-rock guitars.

Throughout the band's rise to the top of the critical heap, it seems as though TV on the Radio has been everywhere but here. It did one show in Pittsburgh, for about 50 people, mostly friends and relatives, at the Quiet Storm in 2003. Now, it finally returns more triumphantly for a show Friday night at Mr. Small's.

"We were still getting it together as a band," Adebimpe says of the last performance here. "We were still trying to figure out what we could do."

As it turns out, they could do quite a lot.

From Hampton to Brooklyn

Tunde ("Ton-day") Adebimpe, 32, was born in Nigeria, and grew up in Hampton, his mother a pharmacist and his late father a noted psychiatrist and classical pianist. He spent several of his childhood years in Nigeria, doing his best to keep track of American pop, such as Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Clearly some other influences seeped in.

From 1989-93, he attended Shady Side Academy, "not really doing well," he says, "in anything except art ... and maybe English."

While at Shady Side, he and his friend Nick formed a high school band called the Apocalyptic Polyester Horsemen, thinking "it would kick us up a notch from only being known as the people who just read comics."

While Adebimpe has only praise for the band's back line musicianship, he says, "We were not good, not good at all. Nick and I got it in our minds that we were rappers, which was far from the truth, and we managed to prove that to everyone with show after show."

Upon graduation, he followed the Warhol path to New York City, where he got into film school at New York University. He specialized in stop-action animation and began working on such projects as MTV's "Celebrity Death Match." Among his episodes were Michael Jackson vs. Madonna and Beastie Boys vs. Backstreet Boys, so, he has said, "There's a lot of carnage in my past." Adebimpe also played the lead in an acclaimed indie film called "Jump Tomorrow" in 2001.

Around that time, he and friend Martin Perna, who plays in the heady Afro-pop band Antibalas, moved to a Brooklyn loft, scene of a "rotating cast of characters."

One of them was David Andrew Sitek, a talented painter, guitarist and producer who knew his way around a four-track recorder. They began working together with a musical approach akin to "piecemeal collaging," Adebimpe says. "You put in the things that excite you and take out all the things that don't excite you."

In 2001, Adebimpe and Sitek conjured "OK Calculator," a sort of sketchbook of 18 lo-fi electronic recordings with a title that played on Radiohead's "OK Computer." How surprised was he when they distributed it around the neighborhood for free and started generating a buzz?

"Totally," he says laughing. "Any time I'm involved in making something, I get so wrapped up in it that finishing it is a matter of wanting to do something else. Then you send it out to the world and it comes back to you in a million really unpredictable and great ways. We were kind of shocked, like 'Hey, someone likes it.' "

The buzz got bigger with the Touch and Go EP "Young Liars," which featured friends from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as guests and showcased Adebimpe as a voice to be reckoned with, one that the tastemakers at Pitchfork referred to as a "sterling, gospel-blues croon."

Shortly after, Adebimpe ran into Malone (he of the unforgettable afro) at a coffee shop in Brooklyn and just stared at him, thinking, "Didn't I meet you in Pittsburgh forever ago?" Malone, who grew up in Moon, had worked at the Beehive and was now serving lattes in the Verb Cafe, while acting and leading the Black Magic Orchestra.

Sitek and Adebimpe were playing shows at a local bar with Sitek's brother Jason helping on drums and other instruments. When Jason left, they thought of continuing on as a duo until David said, "I think the perfect third person would be Kyp."

Malone added another guitar, another soulful croon and a fine set of songwriting skills. An early high-profile booking was a two-night stand in Chicago opening for British punks The Fall, the first night of which Adebimpe says was a "total train wreck."

In 2004, TV on the Radio took it to the next level with its full-length debut, "Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes." The record turned up on Top 10 lists and won the Shortlist Music Prize over the likes of Wilco, the Killers and Franz Ferdinand.

Few reviews went past without comparing Adebimpe to Peter Gabriel.

"You know, it's better than being compared to Phil Collins," he says, laughing (Adebimpe says almost everything with a laugh). "I didn't really ever think about it until people started bringing that up. I'm not against him at all. I mean, Genesis was better when he was there. It's not a conscious thing. We just have the same kind of larynx." (...)

Thursday, August 02, 2007 By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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