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Talking Heads: 'Stop Making Sense' 25th anniversary Blu-ray release: How well does the concert film age?

ByrnebyHughBrown3 I vividly recall how innovative and engaging the Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense” tour was when it swung through Southern California in 1983. From the moment singer-songwriter David Byrne casually walked onstage, set down a boom box, punched a button that started the rhythm track and started strumming his acoustic guitar while singing “Psycho Killer,” the show unfolded as a brilliantly crafted combination of music, theater, costuming, lighting and funky fun that just kept building until it hit a monumental climax some two hours later.

It holds up remarkably well 26 years later in the new Blu-ray edition being released this week of Jonathan Demme’s film of that landmark concert.

Watching the Blu-ray version, what struck me as even more impressive a quarter century later — on the 25th anniversary of the film’s 1984 theatrical release — is just how much the Talking Heads gave those of us in the audience to think about, see, hear and feel simultaneously.

So many of today’s blowout concert productions strive to dazzle the eye or pummel the ear, and that’s pretty much where all too many start and stop. But Byrne, drummer Chris Frantz, bassist Tina Weymouth and keyboardist Jerry Harrison seemed to be simply bursting with inspired elements to pack into “Stop Making Sense.”

The Blu-ray disc makes the most of the sparkling sound and brightly colored visuals of the digitally recorded shows, which featured a touring band that gradually expanded over the course of the evening from just Byrne to the full quartet, augmented by another half-dozen singers and instrumentalists. The disc includes several bonus features, including a previously available segment in which Byrne, in a series of whimsical costumes and wigs, interviews himself, his doppelgänger outfitted in the famous “big suit” from the concert.

There’s also a mini-documentary on that suit, which seemed to have a kinetic life of its own when Byrne appeared in it late into the performance. Another piece shows the storyboards for the show and how they evolved into what eventually appeared onstage. Heads completists will be happy with two bonus tracks that were played on tour but deleted from the film to streamline its pacing.

New to this disc is the complete 1999 press conference for which the four original band members reunited for a 15th anniversary release of the film, which Demme said cost a mere (in today’s terms) $1 million to shoot.  

"I'm a rock fanatic, and I've seen hundreds of live shows all over the world," Demme told The Times in 1985. "And precious few bands can really support 90 minutes of attention. But the Heads are so ultra-interesting to watch, and David Byrne is a living phenomenon who has to be experienced. He's a full-blown original, and I just knew that was going to work for the movie. I knew that for people who had never seen Talking Heads, this film would be an instant revelation."

The brilliant thing about “Stop Making Sense,” which remains one of the most inventive rock concert events ever, was the richness of artistic imagination, not its budget.

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Hugh Brown

Comments () | Archives (15)

Talking Heads Rule!!! This is one of the best concert films ever. It's right up there with Woodstock, and The Last Waltz.

My first conscious memory of Talking Heads was driving along and suddenly hearing "Life During Wartime". But was one of those extended sets and the DJ never said who the artists were. They were played so seldom, it took me weeks to figure out who the artists were. My next memory is of the MTV video "Once in a Lifetime" and that suit and the hand chops down the arm. David Byrne and company definitely had a way of cutting through the fog. Still like.

Had it last week from Netflix--was happy to make the windows and my head rattle. Not to be missed.

"Burning down the House" - a tendon-tearing rocker I put right up there with Clapton's "Crossroads"... pure joy! Thank you, David!

best concert film ever! "This Must Be The Place" is my favourite part.

This is all about sweetness and the love of art.
Amazing performance art created on the fly, enveloped in the most original American music of that time.

Forgot Bernie Worrell's keyboards. Not to be missed.

Thanks for this review. I know I'm getting old but can anyone name a band today that's as innovative, melodic and enjoyable as Talking Heads?

David Byrne always proves the unsurpassed coolness of being both talented and unlike anyone else.

Brings back old memories....

Free concert at the foot of Janss Steps at UCLA back in 1977. Had to leave the concert a bit early :( :( (while they were performing "Take Me to the River"). I remember how haunting that song was as it echoed off all the buildings...

That Talking Heads concert and a Peter Gabriel concert were a couple of my fondest memories from my UCLA undergraduate days....

Haven't grown up all that much since then -- now it's Flogging Molly, The Shins, Radiohead...

Life During Wartime, Burning Down the House, This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody, to name a few. Talking Heads are unique and a treasure.

I first saw the Talking Heads when they were the first ever to perform at the Pacific Amphitheater that was built in the Southwest corner of the parking lot of the Orange County fairgrounds. (Unfortunately now closed) That was only a few months before they appeared at the Pantages. It was an amazing show, especially from the first row right center in the balcony, as there was so much to take in. On the album just as "Burning Down The House" is about to begin we are all able to hear my buddy Stefos shrill 2 finger whistle, it makes me relive that week and I still smile every time. In fact I enjoyed it so much that as I left I was able to buy 2 more tickets to the third night at the box office. The most amazing thing was there was so much my senses couldn't absorb from the opening night show that I was actually even more overwhelmed by the performances and energy of what was the epitome of people making music. An added bonus to me was that I found out those 2 nights that the Tom-Tom Club, a huge MTV favorite with Lucky Boyfriend, and Man With the 4 Way Hips was actually the Talking Heads sans Mr. Bryne and they played their hits during the intermission. To this day it was probably 2 of the best concerts I have ever attended and the film and live album truly captured every bit of it.

Quel concidence, one of my favorite Cal memories is stumbling into a free Talking Heads concert at Cal on the same 1977 tour. The UCLA games certainly weren't much fun back then...

They were on SNL at about the same time and I remember my shock that a band t performing free at Cal (the free concerts were usually local bar bands) was on TV and had a recording contract!

Too bad they blew up shortly after 'Sense'. The performance, btw, wasn't all that spontaneous. Apparently every shot was storyboarded in advance.

"For people who had never seen Talking Heads, this film would be an instant revelation." -- Jonathan Demme

I couldn't agree more. I saw this in an East Lansing, Mich. movie theater in 1984 and it changed the way I thought about rock music, about performance and art. I went in to the theater hardly knowing anything about the Heads and came out a die hard fan. Still the greatest concert film ever.

It is simply THE masterpiece of filmed concerts !!!
It is a TREASURE !

February 20, 2010

I saw the film as part of FilmEx in 1984 at the Picwood (demolished and replaced by the Westside Pavilion) in Los Angeles. David Byrne, Jerry Harrison and Jonathan Demme were in attendance. FilmEx pretty much sucked, but the film rocked.

I'd seen Demme at an AFI seminar weeks earlier and he was very high on the film. He'd just come off a dispiriting experience with Goldie Hawn on Swing Shift and avoided all questions about that film (Goldie was upset that Christine Lahti's performance outshone hers and seized the film to reduce Lahti's part via editing). Demme showed clips from Stop Making Sense and it was obvious the film was going to be something special. I snatched up a pair of tickets when the FilmEx tickets went on sale.

Thanks to the usual FilmEx amateur hour foulups, I had a needlessly difficult time actually getting into the theatre and securing a seat, but once I did, I was very glad.

Definitely one of the best concert films I've ever seen.


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