By the close of the 1970s, Talking Heads had come a long way in a shockingly short period of time. After emerging as a minimalist three-piece at CBGBs in ’75 centered around the nervous presence of David Byrne, the band expanded their sonic palette in ways that had to have seemed unimaginable to anyone who caught them on the Bowery early on. With the addition of former Modern Lover Jerry Harrison and the innovative production skills of Brian Eno, they became one of the most cutting-edge groups of the period. But unlike many of their peers, they were also achieving no small amount of popular success at the same time. A lot of this success had to do with Byrne and Co.’s incendiary live show.
As this 1979 recording shows, the Heads were peaking as a live act at this point, sounding pretty much — contrary to “Life During Wartime”‘s chorus — like one of the greatest party bands of all time. The crowd almost certainly danced, anyway, given the twitchy art funk they’re presented with. Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz lay down one unstoppable groove after the next, and Harrison easily conjures up some of Fear of Music‘s more intricate textures. As good as the band is, however, the real selling point here is the incredible performance by David Byrne, who sounds positively intense throughout. On Fear of Music, he created a paranoid, scary narrative voice with the help of endless vocal overdubs and studio wizardry. In a live setting, it’s just him — and he rises to the occasion. Byrne opens up and lets it rip: howling, crooning, barking and yelping. The only contemporary comparison I can come up with is Pere Ubu’s Dave Thomas, who was similarly redefining the role of a lead vocalist in a rock band. This tour also marks the last time Talking Heads toured as a four-piece, drafting additional musicians on future jaunts. They went out on a high note. words/ t wilcox
Download: Talking Heads :: Stardust Ballroom, Los Angeles, CA, Sept. 28, 1979
1. Artists Only 2. Stay Hungry 3. Cities 4. Paper 5. Mind 6. Heaven 7. Electric Guitar 8. Air 9. New Feeling 10. Buildings On Fire 11. Found A Job 12. Psycho Killer 13. Life During Wartime 14. Take Me To The River