“The Guitar Plays Me”: Richard Lloyd, June 14 at the Redstone Room Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 06 June 2012 07:59

(Editor’s note: This concert was canceled on June 13.)

Richard Lloyd. Photo by Brian Jenkins.What’s essential to know about the Redstone Room’s June 14 headliner can be summed up succinctly: Richard Lloyd was one of the guitarists of Television, the seminal band whose 1977 Marquee Moon is widely considered a great debut, an unmistakable influence on post-punk and alternative rock, and a classic, period.

The All Music Guide calls it “a revolutionary album, but it’s a subtle, understated revolution. Without question, it is a guitar-rock album – it’s astonishing to hear the interplay between [singer/songwriter/guitarist] Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd – but it is a guitar-rock album unlike any other,” composed entirely of “tense garage rockers that spiral into heady intellectual territory, which is achieved through the group’s long, interweaving instrumental sections ... .”

But to reduce Lloyd to a member of Television – whose initial incarnation disbanded in 1978 after two sterling studio albums – is to diminish a more-than-respectable career as a performer and songwriter outside of that band, and to rob the world of a fascinating person.

Lloyd has released four proper solo albums of his own material, a set of finished but previously unreleased recordings (2010’s Lodestones), and a curious 2009 collection of faithful Jimi Hendrix covers that largely forgoes effects, studio tricks, and obvious selections. (It’s called The Jamie Neverts Story, and it’s kind of a long story. Suffice it to say that Lloyd might be called a secondhand student of the Voodoo Chile.) He also worked with Matthew Sweet (on the albums Girlfriend, Altered Beast, and 100% Fun) and John Doe (of X).

With career highlights out of the way, it must be said that Lloyd considers himself as much a conduit as a creator. In a phone interview last week, he employed a wide variety of metaphysical metaphors – scientific, spiritual, historical – to describe his creative process.

“I still play the guitar in a manner that leaves me agog,” he said. “My jaw drops when I come off the stage, and I say, ‘Why did the guitar allow me to do that? What the hell happened?’ And when people ask me, I say, ‘I don’t even play the guitar; the guitar plays me, while I fool around with the electricity.’”

He said he’s felt that way “all my life. Because in the beginning, all I could do was turn an amp up to 10 and approach it with the tremolo and whammy bar. I couldn’t even make chords except by moving my left fingers with my right hand.”

For more than three years, he said, he had studied drums – an instrument he found literally colorful because of a condition called synesthesia, a blending of senses that in Lloyd’s case gives sound a visual component. But, he said, “the color went out. Drained out, like somebody had pulled the stopper out of the bottom of the tub while I was playing one day by myself. And I heard an auditory voice that was not mine that I’ve heard occasionally, and it’s never told me anything incorrect. It said: ‘You need to play a melody instrument.’”

And he chose the guitar: “For my money,” he said, “the guitars were the magic wands, like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia uses the broom. ...

“We have a relationship, the guitar and I,” he said, adding that the instrument allows him to channel violent negative energy in a harmless way. He compared himself to the Norse berserkers of many centuries ago – “a group of northern-European people who go into a frenzy in war, so trance-like that they would often return to their own village and slaughter their own next of kin – without even knowing it. ... Rather than going berserk, I have discovered this outlet for that nature. The flaw of it is turned into a positive strength so that I can act beyond the grounds of reasonability that usually people are hemmed in by. And that’s what a performer is supposed to be on stage, do on stage. It’s ... shamanic ... . Finding another dimension. Breaking the law.”

Lloyd has long had an interest in artists who can perform that kind of magic with audiences, most notably the way the Beatles “create[d] a tsunami of energy around the globe that was the equivalent you could only find in war, only it was the opposite.”

That mesmerizing quality is certainly evident in Television’s compositions and twin guitars, and more subtly in Lloyd’s sturdy solo work; his playing is somehow meaty and grounded yet sublime and otherworldly, and it’s easy to get lost in the songs.

But Lloyd doesn’t claim responsibility for how audiences react. “It’s not an effect I have on them,” he said. “It’s communal.” Instead of being like direct current from performer to audience, he said, it’s more like alternating current – an exchange.

This plays into an idea that Lloyd has called the “grace” of songwriting. “Or the use of your radio,” he said in our interview. He recalled playing with Ronnie Lane of Faces at South by Southwest. He said he had a tearful epiphany during “Ooh La La”: “No human being could have written that. That song came from above. ...

“People can ... learn the craft,” he explained. But “the creative power, we have to become passive to it; it’s active.”

Lloyd was similarly philosophical about the creation of Television. In Verlaine, he said, he saw the “elusive sublime. ... He had it, and I had it. I noticed [that] what he was missing I had, and vice versa. ... It’s better for me to join forces with someone so that we become more than the two of us could ever be separately.”

If all this existential talk is worrying, know that Lloyd will be in the Quad Cities to perform a rock concert, and he promised selections from his solo albums, some Hendrix, and, yes, a few Television songs.

He had his first rehearsal with his new band the day before we talked, and he said it was transcendent: “I just put my guitar on its stand, because they were churning – like the butter, or the whipped cream – so good, that I just began scat singing ... and man, what a rhythm section. ... It’s a great trio.”

It includes Billy Ficca (Television’s drummer) and bassist Danny Tamberelli, best known for Nickelodeon’s The Adventures of Pete & Pete. (“He gets more people recognizing him than I do,” Lloyd said. “Just as many autographs.”)

And know that the singer/songwriter/guitarist has a sense of humor, too, with awe in his voice as related this tidbit: “It’s half of Television, and it’s Danny Tamberelli, who was on television.”

Richard Lloyd will perform on Thursday, June 14, at the Redstone Room (129 Main Street in Davenport). Grand Strand opens, and tickets to the 7:30 p.m. show are $15 and available from RiverMusicExperience.org.

For more information on Richard Lloyd, visit RichardLloyd.com.