Assorted scribblings of a dog-eared music journalist

Melody Maker | Live | 5 May 1990

TOM VERLAINE
La Dolce Vita, Lausanne


This Tom Verlaine performance has nothing whatsoever to do with the raw power of Television and there are none of the glorious guitar runs of his solo LPs. He's alone onstage, his record company having apparently refused to provide money for him to put a band together for this European tour. An acoustic guitar is his only comfort.

Once or twice, he twists his head and glances at the empty space behind him, turning back to the audience to flash an embarrassed smile. His eyes are lost in the depths of a pair of crimson hollows and his whole body twitches. Nobody would have been surprised if he'd suddenly simply collapsed. 

The physical pain that Verlaine suffers is also partly the result of the mental anguish inherent in much of his work – and the emotional intensity is emphasised by the fact that each song is stripped down to the barest essentials. Even "Shimmer", which is a knock-kneed funk track on vinyl, worthless but for the keyboards and the melodic bass, benefits. That half the time he forgets to play his guitar and many of the words are inaudible, his unmistakeable voice reduced to a mumble, heightens the drama. It's the same for the rest of the set. As he picks absent-mindedly at a string, the dying words of "Prayer" are lost somewhere between brain and lips. He steps away from the microphone long after everybody else thinks it has ended. 

Totally lost in a world of his own unique design, Verlaine re-lives every moment of every experience he sings about, literally feeling his way through the songs and, naturally, sometimes fumbling. An eerie and agonisingly slow version of "Glory" is the encore and it's an incredibly moving final churn. At the close, he lingers at the side of the stage and stares at his feet, unable – if not unwilling – to play anything else, but uncertain of what he's supposed to do next. It'll be nothing short of a miracle if he makes it as far as the British leg of the tour.

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