“This ain’t no mudd club, or C.B.G.B.,” David Byrne sang in “Life During Wartime.” He wasn’t kidding. More than five years after saying that oft-quoted line, they were performing in front of the furthest thing from the C.B.G.B.: the Pantages Theatre in
Even with the huge radio hits, the Talking Heads could still summon their inner nerd and freak. Their concert film Stop Making Sense was anything but a conventional concert film. It wasn’t an exercise in excess, like Iron Maiden’s Live After Death, but it was too arty to be a typical concert film with shots of the band and the cheering audience. It was directed by Jonathan Demme, who is one of the best directors of our time when it comes to combining accessibility with high art.
Unlike Purple Rain, which was released the same year as Stop Making Sense, the Talking Heads’ film was the release that won critics over and not the soundtrack. Those who love the early-era Talking Heads output may not have enjoyed the softened edges given to some of their earlier staples, however. “Psycho Killer” originally sounded like a guy who had just endured an hour of shock treatments; the version on the soundtrack sounds almost serene. Their original cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” had a nerdy sexuality to it, but the concert version, backed by a chorus, has a buoyant, almost silly feel to it.
That’s not to say that the retooled versions of their earlier material are vastly inferior. The concert version of “Psycho Killer” is so different than the original that it wins huge points on innovation alone. Heard in a live setting, “Once In A Lifetime” takes on an anthemic air worthy of Springsteen.
A good amount of material from Stop Making Sense came from 1983’s Speaking In Tongues. Critically, it was well-received, but for diehard fans, it marked a definitive “pre” and “post” period for the band. The “pre” period, of course, represented their more experimental days, while their “post” period represented their more MTV-friendly output. This is somewhat unfair to the band as some of their later works hold up just as well as their early material (see Naked). But Stop Making Sense is an easy marker for fans to cite when it comes to identifying the point where the band’s commercial and artistic successes perfectly intersect.