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
This Must be the Band just came through Colorado and boy was it a treat. Don’t miss them at the Soulshine Tent, 1am Monday morning, the only way to bring this festival to a close. Click HERE to check out my video blog on them!
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.
The weekend of August 26th and 27th was a good one for SCAMP fans in Denver. With Papadosio on Friday night and This Must Be The Band on Saturday night, it was sure to be a nice reminder of what we all look forward to in May…
Friday night at the Bluebird was host to a Papadosio show. Even though these guys are from Indiana it sure seemed to be a hometown kind of feel. If Denver isn’t their second home, it seems like it should be. I’m not positive but I think they sold out the venue, which I believe is 550 tickets, a great showing, for any band. The best part of the large crowd though was that they were all really into what was going on up on the stage. Papadosio still looks to be a really young band, and they are, but boy are they starting to figure it out. With a great mix of new technology and old school dance music, Papadosio brings a party to every city they play. Great bass lines, cool vocals, solid guitar work and a machine for a drummer all keep this band going strong. If you missed them at SCAMP check them out in a city near you soon. If not, make sure to see them in May. This band is one that is on the rise, already selling out venues like the bluebird, they are bound to make some magic happen.
Saturday was no slouch of a night either. With This Must Be The Band in town, I was super pumped to get my Talking Heads dancing requirement in for the month…oh, you don’t have a Talking Heads Dance Req? You should…just sayin…
Anyway, I got to the venue as the notes of the first song, Makin’ Flippy Floppy, were ending. Every time I see this band I am blown away by their dedication. To learn the Heads music so well and perform it in a way that gets everyone in the crowd live is a very special thing. Of course we got all the classics…Punches, Flippy Floppy, Life During Wartime, Cities…It was phenomenal.
I got a chance to catch up with the band at set break and see how everything is going. I went to school with the front man, his name is Charlie Otto and if you haven’t had a chance to meet him, head down to Martyr’s and grab a beer from him where he is also one hell of a bartender. From everything I can gather, Charlie and the rest of his band mates were stoked on the turnout at Cervantes…Considering that this was their first trip to Colorado, the 500-700 people I estimate were in there is a wonderful turnout. Really, this band is just happy to be playing music. Of course everyone is trying to “make it” and in a certain sense, these guys have. Kasey Foster, the beautiful leading lady of the band said it was her first time with a rider so she decided to throw in a bottle of wine which she enjoyed at set break…not the whole bottle, but a glass…Which is another really cool thing about the band. They were not there to get wasted. With a focus on providing a great show, This Must Be The Band achieves that and more.
Hopefully SCAMP brings them back because their impromptu set in the tent last year was G’NICE…If you didn’t catch it I assume they’ll be playing somewhere in the Chicago land area soon. Don’t miss them!