Talking Heads live album Stop Making Sense is, in many ways, the best place to start with this band. Even better would be the live DVD from which this album is taken from. Spanning their career up until that point, this is an energetic, lively set that seamlessly transports Talking Heads jerky, dancey brand of punk to the live stage. Transforming their breakthrough single ‘Psycho Killer’ into a one man performance, front man David Byrne opens the show with just an acoustic guitar and a drum machine, somehow both stripping the song down and making it funkier. This trend continues, with only Byrne and bassist Tina Weymouth playing on the next track, a simple, superior version of ‘Heaven’from the Fear of Music album. But the whole album is not like this. Far from the standard live show fare, various guest musicians make appearances as the show builds to include backing vocalists, keyboard players and extra guitarists. By the time they play ‘Take Me To The River’ near the end of the set, the place is alive; the whole cast being energised by, amongst other things, David Byrne‘s high energy vocal performance.
In terms of highlights, there is a handful. The whole end of the set, from the perfect pop song (‘This Must Be The Place’) down to ‘Crosseyed and Painless’ (probably the perfect distillation of their sound) form an incredible run of quality. Everyone’s heard ‘Once In A Lifetime’ and it’s a classic that doesn’t disappoint here, the sheer magnitude of the song making it a surefire live hit. Tina Weymouth and husband, drummer Chris Frantz bring their side project Tom Tom Club out to play for the brilliant ‘Genius of Love’, a song later sampled by Mariah Carey (little wonder, given its sugary sweet brilliance).
It’s a shame this is the “records” section, because, for all the brilliance of this album, the live performance on DVD is simply better. Along with the aforementioned musical treats, the visuals are half the fun. From witnessing the minimal stage transform into a full blown spectacle of illuminated backdrops and expressive dancing, to seeing the frontman running around in an absurdly oversized suit, it’s truly an entertaining watch in a way that many live DVD’s simply aren’t. That said, checking out the album by itself is hardly the bogey prize – these songs speak (and move) for themselves.