The Talking Heads‘ Stop Making Sense was a hugely successful concert film that redefined the live music experience in the 1980′s. While the movie was released almost 30 years ago, the show leaves an impression that will always feel contemporary. I remember watching the film over and over when I was a teenager, trying to figure out why I loved it so much. It wasn’t until I started writing this article that I finally saw Stop Making Sense as a piece of interactive artwork meant to feel more like a theatrical performance than a concert.
The film is structured like a story or a play with specific props and reactive characters. While the script of Stop Making Sense is made up of Talking Heads songs, the film’s purpose was not to showcase their music, but to incorporate it into what was happening on stage. More than almost any other band, The Talking Heads understood the visual element to their music.
Enter This Must Be The Band.
Formed in 2007, this young group of musicians only plays Talking Heads music. While they mostly stick to all request shows, in 2010 they finally decided to tackle Stop Making Sense. The goal of the performance is to replicate the concert movie note for note, scene for scene. While they try to limit the differences between their recreation and the film, a precise replication will never be achieved, nor should it.
On November 9th, for the fourth year in a row, TMBTB recreated Stop Making Sense in their home town of Chicago. The concert begins with Charlie Otto walking out onto an empty stage looking like a sales man, only he carries a boombox in his hand instead of a briefcase. In a convincing manner, informs us he has a tape he wants to play.
Otto then sells his pitch with the song, “Psycho Killer”.
This is the first time we are introduced to our main character’s neurosis. David Byrne, the original front man of the Talking Heads, is extremely hard to capture and over the years Otto has learned to nail this persona. At certain points in the song he seems to have no control over his body and a nervous energy forms as he awkwardly twitches across the stage. As an observer, you can’t help but connect with whatever it is that is so strange about him.
The scene evolves over the course of the next six songs. Equipment gets wheeled out, the crew sets the stage piece by piece, and the cast takes their places. Building the scene as the show progresses gradually increases the energy emitting from the stage. It is quite a process before the whole band is finally all there for the powerhouse hit ”Burning Down the House”. This evolution of the scene and deliberate emphasis on execution is much more obvious in real life when compared to the film. The fact that the stage production seems simple is very intentional and it showcases the avant garde elements of the show.
While watching this all unfold, I found myself extremely sensitive to what was happening on stage. Facial expressions, the way the band moves, and the way they interact with each other were more impressionable in the live setting than on film. Vocalists Kasey Foster and Trawny Newsome danced in sync with each other and with the rest of the band throughout the show. While this also takes place in the movie, watching the synchronicity in real life pulled together all the members on stage into a unit. By the time TMBTB slammed into “Life During Wartime”, the whole band and most of the audience was running in place. And, just like that, everyone in the room became invested in this performance.
Throughout Stop Making Sense, our main character neurotically controls how the show unfolds like the ringmaster of a circus. The show then feels like it’s losing control when he exits the stage for the Tom Tom Club’s ”Genius of Love”. A spotlight creates a larger than life shadow on the stage’s backdrop when he finally reenters the scene for the set’s next tune; “Girlfriend is Better”. As he emerges to the front of the stage, we notice his morphed silhouette is actually the result of a costume change into an oversize suit. This iconic large suit makes his head appear small and exaggerates his presence on stage.
Part of the reason TMBTB’s Stop Making Sense recreation is so successful is because it captures the art of the situation, the complexity of human interaction and a sensitivity to what is happening on stage. These things can not be duplicated from one performance to the next and they are very difficult to capture on film because camera angles and edits cut out a lot of these elements. When the show is recreated, tiny details of how each scene was put together stand out loud and clear.
While This Must Be The Band pays close attention to all these details, it is impossible to recreate the energy of a performance, no matter how many variables are controlled. This is not a bad thing, in fact, this is what makes Stop Making Sense a memorable performance worth experiencing over and over again.
Stop Making Sense Photos
The once brazen Kimock seems finer in his approach these days. The former phenom of the late era psychedelic scene of San Francisco has come a long way from his early days with Zero and Kingfish. His performances with Rat Dog, Phil and Friends, and Steve Kimock Band have become legendary, and the reason is that Kimock has finally solidified his place within the band dynamic. Instead of going all out and simply shredding, he has found a subtlety to his playing that allows for other musicians to engage and compliment wonderfully. I have seen this shift in Kimock’s performances coming over many years. At the Aggie, he seemed to come full circle. Balancing lead and jamming back and forth with legendary keyboardist Bernie Worrell.
The inclusion of Worrell in this lineup is simply breathtaking. This man has so much musical history that to see him play in a room the size of the Aggie is an awesome experience. Worrell single-handedly invented funk keyboard and played in two of the most influential bands in American musical history. No doubt he is getting up there in age, but at 68 he is still touring regularly with several projects. The rhythm section consisting of troubadour drummer Wally Ingram and former Gov’t Mule bassist Andy Hess are the solid foundation on which this group is built. Hess brought the funk from time to time, but mostly stayed in the pocket. Ingram too stayed consistent and conservative throughout most of the night.
They opened with an extended jam on Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up.”
SET I: Get Up, Stand Up, You Can’t Do That> Super Stupid, Sun, Sun, Sun, Hey Man, This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)
SET II: 54-46 Was My Number, You’re The One, Come Together, Y-Spy> Five B4 fUNK, Tongue ‘n’ Groove
ENCORE: Burning Down The House
Thanks to Taper Corey and Kind Recordings for the UPLOAD.
Kimock demonstrated his copious skills on the pedal steel for their instrumental take on The Beatles’ “You Can’t Do That.” They blasted off with Funkadelic’s “Super Stupid,” which saw Worrell on the rapid-fire lyrics and Kimock absolutely exploding on the slide guitar. The went into jazzy rendition of Zero’s “Sun, Sun, Sun.” In just the first half of the first set we were witnessing are real musical meld between not only Worrell and Kimock’s playing, but their actual song catalogs. Sticking primarily to instrumental tunes, original track “Hey Man” began much like a traditional jazz-infused jam, but soon broke down into the avant-garde with Worrell hitting pinging notes on his synthesizer and Kimock wailed away over the top. They ended the set with a much-anticipated trip to the Talking Heads catalog with “This Must Be The Place.” The musical side of the song was top notch, but unlike “Super Stupid” Bernie’s vocals were choppy and he seemed fatigued at times. They jammed on this classic well past the ten-mark before calling the first set to a close.
The band returned to the stage with Toots and They Maytals’ “54-46 Was My Number.” It was a nice way to ease in the set and really demonstrated the diversity of both Hess and Ingram in the rhythm section. “You’re The One,” another Kimock original jam, contains some heavy give and take between Kimock and Worrell, before they busted out their second Beatles jam of the night with “Come Together.” “Y-Spy” was a funky journey that finally saw Hess really taking it up a notch. They segued beautifully into “Five B4 fUNK” which is another Kimock original. They finished the set with a delicate Kimock tune “Tongue ‘n’ Groove.” It was beautifully constructed from the ground up with the virtuoso guitarist showing his range. They encored with the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down The House.” Again Bernie sang and it was a little rough, but the enthusiastic crowd backed him up with a massive sing-along. All in all it was one of the best Kimock shows I’ve seen and best lineup he has put together in years. I hope they continue to tour, write, and grow as a group. There is such an immense amount of talent in the band. It would be interesting to see how they sounded together after a couple years of regular touring.
The moment Charlie Otto sauntered onto the Vic stage, politely asking you to listen to a tape he wanted to play, you were magically looped back to 1984. Not Orwell’s 1984, but David Byrne’s where big suits, spandex clad fly girls, and lamps are perfectly acceptable dance partners for the evening if the mood strikes.
This Must Be The Band is one of the only Talking Heads cover bands in Chicago. More importantly they also are the most adept at conveying an accurate representation of the actual band members down to their mannerisms. Charlie Otto is to David Byrne as Day-Lewis is to President Lincoln. He simply owns the characters likeness so much that one can almost forget who is onstage until, out of costume, Otto reminds taking a few requests once the performance portion of the evening is complete.
Byrne (Charlie Otto) opens wearing white shoes with the familiar drum cadence of “Psycho Killer” and is alone onstage with his acoustic and boom box. As the gunfire puts him into a spastic whirl stumbling like the last scenes of “Scarface” he is joined by the core members of the band in each of the first four songs. With each successive song, Byrne is cumulatively joined onstage by Tina Weymouth (Jamie Jay) for “Heaven” (with Lynn Mabry (Tawny Newsome) providing harmony vocals from backstage, second by Chris Frantz (Alan Maniacek) for “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel”, and third by Jerry Harrison (Jim Dinou) for “Found a Job”. Performance equipment is gradually wheeled out and wired up to the bare stage between and throughout the performances, as Talking Heads continue to be augmented by several additional musicians, most of whom had extensive experience in funk: back-up singers Lynn Mabry and Edna Holt (Kasey Foster), keyboardist Bernie Worrell (again played by Dinou), and percussionist Steve Scales (Pat Sweeney). The first song to feature the entire lineup is “Burning Down the House“. The energy when the first lyrics burst onto the full fervor crowd is palpable. Lighting is key and TMBTB nailed it on one of the most important tracks. Certainly the song built to a crescendo perfectly and the crowd responded by singing the chorus throughout. The audience also held a fixation upon a singular white balloon as they toyed with it which fit the evening’s jovial atmosphere. Like Byrne it flitted about on a whim seemingly unable to find a comfortable resting place. Otto truly captures Byrne’s idea that music should be experienced and not just listened to and TMBTB’s devoted fan admiration can be viewed as a sign they represented to the highest level of flattery.
Byrne leaves the stage at one point, to allow the Weymouth–Frantz-led side-band the Tom Tom Club to perform their song “Genius of Love“. There was much funky love laid down by Jamie Jay and Alan Maniacek, and the dressed to impress Wedding Singer themed crowd let loose their inner 80s in a spectacle not soon to be topped.
Without a cast and crew equally dedicated to representing the others involved the project would fall flat and not have as great an impact. Many can sing and act like Byrne, but few groups are lucky enough to interact with a full band while blocking the stage movement in perfect choreography. Every run in place, arm condor swing, and crawl on the floor with a microphone move are executed without a forced feel. One thing I read Byrne wanted to achieve by giving a full view of everything happening on the stage was to ensure that interactions between the performers would not be lost with choppy camera shots. TMBTB is not mimicking the movement onstage, they become it and live it live through the audience.
True to the DVD version TMBTB played three tracks “Big Business”, “I Zimbra”, “Cities” before inviting the stage crew back onstage to take applause and join them for a song and a few requests. The umpteenth installment of their annual gig recreating “Stop Making Sense” sold out before the doors opened ensuring TMBTB has “Found A Job” at least for one evening each year. Otto’s side project Savvy is scheduled to play Martyr’s 11/30 along with Dozens and Magic Box.
Talking Heads tribute group This Must Be The Band made their way out to Colorado for a night of David Byrne inspired fun. Comprised of members of Chicago’s self-proclaimed “Strangefunk” band Savvy, Harmonation, and Impossible Recording Machine; This Must Be The Band is a truly authentic interpretation. While at Summer Camp last year there was a buzz in the air about this group, so I was eager to check them out, not to mention I’m a big Talking Heads fan. Up first was Something Juicy, a local funk rock outfit. They are certainly adequate at what they do, and even tossed the audience a curve ball with a quick but fun version of Ray Parker’s Ghostbusters. Their drummer Chuck Maxwell felt like the “something juicy” that was their namesake. He was in the pocket for their entire set and his flair put him in a league of his own.
The main event of This Must Be The Band took the stage and it was obvious from the beginning that they knew what they were doing. Lead singer and guitarist Charlie Otto definitely had Byrne’s voice dialed in which would prove to be the most compelling facet of the show. He let the crowd know right away that they didn’t have a setlist and that they would be taking requests directly from the audience. A flurry of Psycho Killers, Cities, and Life During Wartimes spewed forth from the enthusiastic mob. They opened with a spot on Cities showing everyone in the room they came to play. The keys of Jim Dinou had a distinctly 80’s twang adding another layer of legitimacy. Additional first set highlights included Slippery People, Take Me To The River, Girlfriend Is Better, and a huge Psycho Killer. The show ended up selling out, and the audience seemed to be electrically charged.
After a quick setbreak This Must Be The Band took the stage again. By the time the kids were in a frenzy. Amy had been waiting for Crosseyed and Painless all night so when I was up for a few more photos I took the time to put in her request. The second set read like a breakdown of the Talking Heads Greatest Hits. Songs like Life During Wartime, This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody), Burning Down The House all blasted from the PA. Finally late in the second set Amy got her Crosseyed, and it absolutely was the peak of the entire show. They nailed it. They encored with a nice Stay Up Late. If you are looking to get a Talking Heads fix while David Byrne tours South America, This Must Be The Band is your best bet. They deliver what they advertise and have a powerful asset in the voice and chops of Charlie Otto. They are definitely a fun night out.