Memory Motel: Talking Heads Grow Up In Public
New Wave pioneers caught in flux.
From a contemporary vantage point, so much about Talking Heads seems like a foregone conclusion that it's easy to forget exactly how odd they must have seemed when they started out. That's just one of the issues addressed by the Chronology DVD, which compiles live Heads performances from their earliest days to their last hurrah. The first few clips capture Talking Heads as a baby band in 1975 onstage at CBGB, before keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison even entered the picture. The trio appears so awkward and uncomfortable that one is almost tempted to wonder whether it was some sort of postmodern put-on, but the tentative, nervous quality of the performances themselves makes the discomfiture seem genuine; in the earliest clips, bassist Tina Weymouth in particular appears to regard her instrument with a constant state of intense concern. At the same time, David Byrne never seems more like the New Wave Tony Perkins than in these performances, coming off like the shyly psychotic cousin of Jonathan Richman, capable of snapping at any second, and lending a visceral edge to the proceedings. When you consider the fact that the band's contemporaries on the CB scene were the likes of The Ramones, Patti Smith and Blondie, Talking Heads' status as the original geek rockers really comes into focus.
Of course, part of the fun of this collection's chronological format is the opportunity to watch the group grow and evolve. As soon as Harrison arrives, things are kicked up to the next level, and by the time we see the quartet tearing through a raucous "Thank You For Sending Me An Angel" at off-Broadway NYC spot Entermedia Theater in 1978, it's obvious that the Heads have embraced their role as entertainers, with Byrne graduating gloriously from psycho-in-sublimation to unleashed lunatic. It's equally intoxicating to watch them get funkified in the ‘80s with the expanded Remain In Light/Speaking In Tongues-era band that includes Adrian Belew on guitar and Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell, among others, gaining sinuousness and sinew in equal measure. And the reunion performance of "Life During Wartime" for their 2002 Rock Hall of Fame induction is an especially cathartic moment. A particularly enticing bonus feature is the BBC's 1978 South Bank show, capturing the band at work in its rehearsal loft, with candid glimpses of the rising rock stars practicing, talking, and lounging around in their native habitat.
|Psycho Killer (Acoustic 1975)|