Tag Archives: David Byrne

STOP MAKING SENSE REVISITED

sms albumAbout one month ago I saw David Byrne perform an inspired show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in tribute to the Nigerian musician William Onyeabor. Byrne was lithe and charismatic and he was in great voice. I raved about that performance and described how it reminded me of the 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense. You can read that post here.

Last night I returned to BAM to see a screening of Stop Making Sense. The screening was hosted by the great radio journalist Brian Lehrer who decided to honor the 30th anniversary of the film with the screening and a Q&A with the film’s director Jonathan Demme. Seems like I’m not the only person who has decided to celebrate the musical accomplishments of the great (greatest) year of pop music.

The screening was much more powerful and much more emotional than I could have imagined. In fact I welled up with emotions three times during the screening. I was actually caught off guard by a lump in my throat and additional moisture in my eyes. Three times. Trust me – it’s a rare experience for this to happen once – but it happened.

The first time: The audience broke into sincere, enthusiastic applause after the 5th song in the film (“Slippery People”). Usually I’d be very judgmental and accuse the audience of forcing a display of emotion they wanted others to believe they were feeling. But I was caught up in the brilliance of the film as well and found myself tapping my foot, bobbing my head and applauding after every song. And in the dimmed theater I could hear and feel 100’s of others joining me. It was Pauline Kael’s description of the film as, “an austere orgy,” come to fruition.

tmbtp2The Second Time: During every single second of “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”. This might be the most beautiful love song ( it is a love song, isn’t it?) written by a rock band. And the song is elevated by the performance in the film. The image of the male/female, black/white band on stage, in literal harmony, brought on a surprising burst of joy. And who doesn’t love a lamp dance?

Third Time: Somewhere in the middle of “Girlfriend is Better”.  At some point I just thought how lucky everyone in that theater was. This ecstatic performance of an amazing song played by a great band at their peak was captured on film. And here we were 3 decades later, sharing the experience with friends and strangers.

If you’ve never seen this film or haven’t seen it in a while – check to see if any theaters in your area are playing it. And if not – rent the DVD and invite some friends over and have a party. Have a disco. Fool around!

Interesting facts shared by Demme and his producing partner during the Q&A:

80% of the film comes from one night’s performance. Pick-ups and coverage were pulled from two other nights of performance.

Contrary to other stories, Demme says that he observed all members of The Talking Heads getting along.

The film premiered at the Castro theater in San Francisco. An earthquake occurred earlier that day. When the film played audience members got up and started dancing and caused the theater to literally shake for the second time that day.

David Byrne: Now & Then

Byrne 84

When pop music stars find themselves establishing relatively long careers (’10 years and I still have a record contract!’) they have to make decisions about how they’ll continue their time in the spotlight. Some fight tooth and nail to maintain their relevancy – working hard to remain on top of the charts and in the hearts and minds of young music fans by any means necessary. And then there are the musicians who – decade after decade – keep their foothold in the zeitgeist without any air of desperation. They’re cool, not pandering. They create music for themselves and it’s up to us whether we decide to come along for the ride.

Why a big hat?

Why a big hat?

David Byrne is decidedly in the latter category – a fact confirmed for me by his performance at the William Onyeabor tribute this past weekend at BAM. David Byrne shared the stage with more than a dozen other musicians but all eyes in the mostly 20/30-something crowd seemed fixed on him. I know I was focused on him  – happy to have a chance to see him perform live, yet again.

 

 

During the show I flash-backed to 1984 (something I’ve been doing a lot of since I began this blog), the year Talking Heads released the seminal concert film Stop Making Sense (if you love music and/or film and haven’t seen this movie – PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE rent/stream/purchase it. It’s absolutely perfect! Director Jonathan Demme captures Talking Heads at their peak. The camera knows exactly when to push in, pull back or just sit still and let the band do its work.)

Comparing Byrne’s performances in Stop Making Sense and at BAM reveal to me 1) his remarkable consistency in style and interests 2) how he is just as entertaining but has grown even more fascinating over the past 30 years.

See what I mean? I love the idea that all of the people in the audience thought they were going to a rock show – but instead Reverend Byrne took them to CHURCH! Is this the sound of secular gospel music channeled through RISD and CBGB? Is this the moment when the New Testament of world music begins to replace the Old Testament of rock and roll? Is the pastor in the big suit possessed by the holy spirit? Is he Speaking in Tongues?

Ok – so I’m no Jonathan Demme, but I hope this clip conveys both the joy the audience and Byrne is experiencing. In Stop Making Sense – I feel like I’m watching DAVID BYRNE –  a persona created for the concert. It’s an ecstatic performance but I have no idea what’s going on under the slicked back hair and the big suit? Is he enjoying himself? Does he like his bandmates? What does he think of the audience? All of that mystery is intriguing but 30 years of it would have probably grown tiresome. Today – I think we get a pretty good glimpse of the actual man. Look at him – he’s SMILING. He seems sincerely happy to be on this stage, performing music he loves, to a crowd of 2,000 fans.

Over the years, Byrne (like David Bowie and Annie Lennox) – dropped the character. He’s less overtly odd – but has become more interesting. He’s openly pursued his musical passions and followed his creative impulses. I’m sure the ego is there and he wants to succeed, but I think the music comes first. If only other artists from the 80’s felt the same way. David Byrne collaborating with St. Vincent seems inspired. Madonna performing with Miley Cyrus seems really sad.

I haven’t followed all of Byrne’s efforts over the past 3 decades but it’s a pleasure to know that even when the masses may not be paying attention – he continues creating, innovating, writing – and doing what he does best – being David Byrne.