Director: Jonathon Demme
I’ve had a quite a history with Stop Making Sense (SMS). Way back in December 1983 I was visiting by brother in San Francisco and we saw the show at the San Francisco Auditorium. Standing up the front we watched the whole thing unfold as they wheeled out the staging and as additional performers came on stage. It was a cracker of a show.
The album came out they day I was to fly back, so I landed in Australia with probably the first copy on the continent. I think it the following day that I was back on air with my African and roots radio show. I figured that from Fear of Music on the Heads were close enough to African to warrant inclusion. So, I played it. The whole lot, both sides, stopping only to flip the disc. For the only time in my 8 years on air the switchboard was flooded. At least it proved to me that some was actually listening.
Come January 1984 Talking Heads are coming out to Oz for a festival and did a show in Melbourne. So off I go again. Much less of the staging than in the US but excellent nonetheless.
Now it is September 2023 and, 40 years henc,e me and my brother are heading off to IMAX to see the buffed up remastered SMS movie.SMS was an early digital release. The vision lacked sharpness in places but the sound was sooooperb. Separation between instruments just right and the bass prominent but crisp. The first few early tracks, for mine, exposed the thinness of Byrne’s voice. I know a lot of people nominate those first two albums as their favourites but for me it was all about when the band bulked up. Life In Wartime really muscular and Byrne now fully warmed up having more depth to his voice.
We’ve all seen the movie, hard the record, maybe even seen the concertso no point in me recounting the show but a few things stuck out at this megasized
viewing. The small things Byrne does, a pair of spectacles for one song, the playing to the camera by lunging the standard lamp towards a camera. By the way the cameras were remarkably discrete , aided by the lighting you hardly ever saw them. Byrne’s interaction with the singers and Steve Scales and Alex Weir was in contrast to its absence with the founding members. Was there any eye contact from him? I don’t think so but there were attempts from the others. And the suit, still funny after all these years. Even funnier without the jacket and with the red baseball cap on.
Tina Weymouth up on the IMAX screen – hubba hubba! What also struck me was with the new additions to the Talking Heads ensemble, the ability to dance and be highly active while singing/playing was clearly part of the job description. But what of the founding members who previously could get away with just standing there playing these quirky songs with a skinny geek out front? She can dance and handled those choreographed moves just fine, all the while laying down those essential Heads bass lines.
The show really holds up after all these years and it was comforting that my memory of that remarkable couple of months wasn’t a fantasy.
A word on the audience. Normally for these big filmed concert shows it is a bit like seeing the gig again. It’s a lively vibe, band t-shirts, applause between songs, even dancing in the aisles. At the Toronto film festival the original members were in attendance and along with audience members TH well Byrne at least was up and dancing. How surreal would that be – to be watching a film of a concert of Talking Heads and seeing David Byrne dancing in the aisle? Let’s take it further. How weird would it be to be David Byrne and dancing to a huge screen of yourself in concert? Well, there was no dancing in Melbourne and the only ones clapping were me and my bro. There were a lot of young uns there. Twenties, early thirties? Why were they there? Their folks had the album? Wanted to see why this band were so revered? Who knows. The twentysomething woman next to me did not move or make any expression whatsoever – she was staring at the screen like it was movie. Well, it was a movie, but you know what I mean. Still, you pays your money you can do what you like I suppose.
Like most of you I have seen a lot of concerts. Stop Making Sense and Byrne’s American Utopia show readily come to mind as amongst the best I have seen. Spike Lee, interviewing TH at the Toronto premiere screening gushed that this is the best concert movie ever. It’s hard to disagree. and seeing it up on the big screen is where it’s meant to be.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: