My tastes in music often trend dangerously close into hipster territory. I firmly believe that Radiohead is greatest band since the Beatles and that Panda Bear’s Person Pitch is my generation’s answer to Pet Sounds. While The Suburbs was probably Arcade Fire’s weakest album, I was ecstatic to see it win Best Album at the Grammy’s instead of the other garbage albums that had been nominated. It is perfectly apt then that the first concert film I review for this blog is the seminal classic Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense. The Talking Heads were the kings of the art school crowd in the 1980’s, and while I had never really formally introduced myself to their music, this film was a splendid introduction and quickly made the Talking Heads one of my new favorite bands even if I’m mildly convinced that David Byrne isn’t entirely sane.
The film begins with David Byrne entering on stage by himself with just his acoustic guitar and a boom box. He breaks into a solo rendition of the group’s hit “Psycho Killer” which is probably my favorite Talking Heads song. At the end of each song, a new member (or two) of the band joins David Byrne on stage as they go deeper and deeper into the band’s catalog until the whole band (and the band is huge) is on stage rocking out like nobody else on the planet. The film was edited together from three separate concerts but you never actually notice that while the film is being directed. Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) was the man behind the camera and the lighting and cinematography and professional hardly does her work justice. This was easily the most well made concert film I’ve ever seen and that includes the stellar Woodstock documentary.
Like I said earlier, I wasn’t really that familiar with the Talking Heads music before I watched this film. I had heard “Psycho Killer” because of Rock Band and “Burning Down the House” is their most famous song. I had no idea how talented and engaging their music is. I’m literally at a loss for words on how to describe their music. It’s like if you took the funk of Parliament, added in some of the sonic and psychadelic aspects of Pink Floyd, threw in a mix of the New Romantic stuff like the Replacements, sprinkled a little Santana in, and then something that is entirely their own, and you can begin to imagine their incredibly unique sound. You have complex orchestration spread out over a band with almost ten members mixed with a sound and energy that almost makes them feel like a jam band. This is dance music for smart people.
David Byrne is possible insane. He throws himself around in fits and shakes and seizures like he’s Joe Cocker on cocaine. He swivels his hips and prances around the stage like he’s Buddy Holly and wears ridiculously over-sized suits. He makes crazy faces like he’s slowly losing his mind while singing some of the band’s more out there and sinister songs. At one point, he just started doing laps around the stage during an extended bass/lead guitar segment. There was so much manic energy during every second of this performance that it’s a wonder that David Byrne didn’t have a heart attack from the exertion. That energy passed over to every single member of the group who all looked like they were having the times of their lives on that stage and that is part of what made the film so fun.
If you like music and have a scrap of intellect, you should check this one out. It was simply amazing. It’s been a while since I watched a concert film before this, and Woodstock might have been the last one, but now I want to watch more. One of my great regrets in life is that I haven’t had a chance to see more of the bands I love live. I also hate the fact that a lot of my favorite bands are no longer together and still making music. This is must watch cinema.
Final Score: A