Turntable Talk Round 11 – A Really Big Show – Talking Heads’, “Stop Making Sense” (Concert Movie)

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Dave’s assignment this time was, “If you could safely go back in time and move about for one day, what one concert or live performance would you choose to go to?” The restriction of narrowing it down to one made it next-to-impossible. I would have loved to see The Beatles at The Cavern Club or their rooftop concert; The Band’s Last Waltz concert; George Harrison and Friends Concert for Bangladesh; Bob Dylan’s Traveling Show (or whatever it was called;) any live concerts by Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Soundgarden, or Roxy Music back in the day, George Fest put on by Dhani Harrison after his dad passed away, Roy Orbison and Friends’ Black and White Night, and endless other ones. How to choose?

One concert I remember seeing years ago as a film that jumped out as the one is Talking Heads’, “Stop Making Sense,” which I found on YouTube in its entirety and described as “The full movie in 1080p which also includes “Cities,” “Big Business,” and “I, Zimbra,” which were cut in the DVD/Blu-ray releases and only included as bonus material.”

I remembered being totally bowled over by not only the music but the theatrical presentation of it. This afternoon I put on the headphones, sat back, and watched the concert, which is a little over ninety minutes long. I took notes as I went; to gather, write down, and share my impressions of here.

As the film opens, it states that it is directed by Jonathan Demme and conceived for the stage by David Byrne. I can’t imagine how a director works with a lively band like this. I did see where Byrne has been interviewed about the experience but not sure if Demme ever was. Will have to do a little research on it. OK, yes!  Here and here.

There is a close up of Byrne’s white canvas sneakers as he walks out onto the stage with his acoustic guitar. None of the gear is on stage at this point. He turns on his beat box and begins the opening song, “Psycho Killer,” with an unseen accompanying background vocalist. He stumbles around on stage to the beats as the gear begins to be set up, and there is a glaring impression that he is trapped in his own little world. How appropriate and masterful.

Bassist, Tina Weymouth, joins Byrne on stage. Together they perform the second selection, “Heaven.” Honestly this is one of my favorite songs performed in the concert and is one of my favorite Talking Heads songs. The aching loneliness, yearning for belonging, and the fatigue of being different are captured so poignantly in it.

Chris Frantz, drummer and Tina’s husband, joins them for the third track, “Thank You for Sending Me An Angel,” in his turquoise shirt. Fidgety, Byrne walks himself around in circles during this number.

Guitarist (and keyboardist through many of the numbers,) Jerry Harrison joins the other three for the fourth number, “Found a Job.” Byrne is on rhythm guitar now. All through these songs the equipment is being set up on stage.

Vocalists, Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt, percussionist, Steve Scales (on bongos for this number,) and lead guitarist through most of the numbers, Alex Weir, join the Heads on stage for fifth track, “Slippery People.” 

Everybody gets dancing on the sixth track, “Cities.”

As much as everybody switches around on their musical instruments, it becomes difficult to keep up with who is on what, but really it doesn’t matter at this point. Keyboardist, Bernie Worrell, finishes out the ensemble and all of the equipment is there and plugged in. Now that everyone is good and warmed up, they roll into the seventh track, the well-known, “Burnin’ Down the House.”

I regard the pinnacle of energy in the concert as the eighth track, “Life During Wartime.” Everyone is really pumped up at this point. Byrne’s frenetic energy has him literally running laps around the band and of course my mind jumps to coke (and not the liquid in a bottle.) I have no idea or knowledge as to whether Byrne did drugs then, but that is the impression I had. (If anyone knows, please put it in the comments!)

Byrne then asks, “Does anybody have any questions?”

It looks like an intermission here and when they come back, there are several words that are projected on the wall behind them, including public library, onions, air conditioned, under the bed, drugs, video game, sandwich, diamonds, pig, facelift, grits, dog, time clock, digital, babies, dustball, before, dinner, time, before, you’re awake. What they all mean is a mystery.

The ninth song, “Making Flippy Floppy” highlights Weymouth’s superb bass playing skills. Wow.

The tenth song, “Swamp,” has them all silhouetted against a red screen, with a spotlight on Byrne. I was intrigued by the atmosphere of this one, including Byrne’s weird gyrations as he sings it, and so went out to find the lyrics. Bits of them:

Now lemme tell you a story
The devil he has a plan
A bag a’ bones in his pocket
Got anything you want …

And when your hands get dirty
Nobody knows you at all
Don’t have a window to slip out of
Lights on, nobody home…

The eleventh song, “What a Day That Was” has everyone “underlit” like when you shine a flashlight up on your face, with their shadows on the wall behind them. As Byrne sings, I get a sense of him as a Prophet.

The twelfth song, “Naive Melody,” has Mabry, Holt, Weymouth, Byrne, and Weir standing in front of a library projection with a single reading lamp for lighting. The rest of the band is in shadow. As the song goes on the library books turn to skin shots. Byrne sings, “love me til my heart stops.”

The thirteenth song, “Once in a Lifetime,” another well-known one that also has a really good music video that I think most of us have seen, gives me an impression of Byrne as Preacher. This is one of the big numbers in the concert and everyone is jamming seamlessly on it. Byrne does his famous “jerking dance” in it.

The fourteenth song, “Big Business,” is another serious jam session.

The fifteenth is by the band, Tom Tom Club, which was formed by Weymouth and Frantz, with their kickazz tune, “Genius of Love.” Tom Tom Club here is everyone except Byrne. It’s a groovy dance track with Weymouth, Frantz, and the backup singers doing the vocals.

Girlfriend is Better,” the sixteenth track, has Byrne in his famous “Big Man Suit.” The harmonies in this tune are stunningly good. There’s also a lot of cool dancing on the stage during it.

Byrne’s reasoning behind the suit:

I wanted my head to appear smaller and the easiest way to do that was to make my body bigger, because music is very physical and often the body understands it before the head.

The seventeenth song, “Take me to the River,” a cover of an Al Green tune, starts out with what I will call faux goosestepping. It’s another big production tune that everyone really gets into.

Byrne then goes to each member on stage and introduces them. I noticed Weymouth’s bass sounds like a heartbeat here.

The eighteenth and final song, “Cross-Eyed and Painless,” starts out like a cool-down song then ramps up. It gives lead guitarist, Weir, a chance to show off his seriously good skills.

The rest of the production crew does a walk-through behind the band. Roll credits.

I wanted to give my impressions before getting into the nitty gritty of the logistics and many special things about the concert, which are:

Per wikipedia:
It was shot over the course of three nights at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater in December 1983, as the group was touring to promote their new album Speaking in Tongues. The film premiered during the San Francisco International Film Festival on April 24, 1984 and entered commercial release in the United States on October 19, 1984. The film is the first made entirely using digital audio techniques. The band raised the budget of $1.2 million themselves. In 2021, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

It’s been universally praised as one of the best concert films ever made, and I have to concur. I think Frantz is an azzhole for wearing a turquoise shirt.

Here is the concert in its entirety:

Playlist and times each song is at:
1:52 – Psycho Killer
7:03 – Heaven
11:00 – Thank You For Sending Me An Angel
13:17 – Found a Job
17:09 – Slippery People
21:30​ – Cities
25:12​ – Burnin’ Down the House
29:25 – Life During Wartime
35:52 – Making Flippy Floppy
41:03 – Swamp
45:34 – What a Day That Was
52:07 – Naive Melody (This Must Be the Place)
57:39 – Once in a Lifetime
1:03:14​ – Big Business
1:08:59​ – I Zimbra
1:10:47​ – Genius of Love (TOM TOM CLUB)
1:15:57 – Girlfriend Is Better
1:21:07​ – Take Me to the River
1:29:13​ – Cross-Eyed and Painless
1:36:57 – Credits

Thank you, Dave, for asking me to write in another round of Turntable Talk. This post was first published at Dave’s blog.

I’ll leave you all with a funny video.


18 Comments Add yours

  1. memadtwo says:

    He’s one of a kind. Thanks for including the YouTube…when/if I have time…(K)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      I appreciated the person at youtube putting links to where each song started. If you listen to one, listen to Heaven.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As I just commented on Dave’s blog, I have to second him here – pretty cool pick! And just like Dave, I’ve only watched some clips of “Stop Making Sense,” not the entire film. The acoustic version of “Psycho Killer” is perhaps my favorite by Talking Heads.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Happy you like the pick, Christian. Yes just him, beat box, a guitar (and that mysterious voice coming from somewhere) are riveting. I am guessing even having the disembodied voice was intentional.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. David Byrne has a pretty distinct way of singing – occasionally, a bit strange but I still like a good deal of Talking Heads tunes he sang.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. msjadeli says:

          Strange is good in my book. What do you think of Devo? He’s a creative genius.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I’m afraid the only Devo song I can name is “Whip It!” 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            1. msjadeli says:

              Here’s one for you:

              Liked by 1 person

            2. msjadeli says:

              Dangit, it won’t show the youtube! Look up Devo songs and [I Can’t Get No] Satisfaction. So funny, Max and I are talking about Start Me Up and here is Satisfaction lol

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Actually, it did work on my end! 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave says:

    Thank you for taking part in it once again! Good pick & like I said on my page, I’d seen a couple, maybe 3, of the song vids off it but you might have convinced me to watch it all.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Badfinger (Max) says:

    Great pick Lisa! This one came out of left field…I had a feeling that your pick and mine would be the same… I didn’t go with the Cavern though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      I *think* I may know what your choice is but will see 🙂 Thank you, Max.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Badfinger (Max) says:

        Yea you probably know

        Liked by 1 person

  5. +1 Lisa, great step back in time to 1984. Never saw them live but remembered excitement of the film and the lp getting played in a share house in Sydney on Saturday mornings. Many thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Peter, thank you. Glad you’re familiar with it and for sharing your memories connected with it.


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