I’ll always remember the first time I heard David Byrne say “Hi. I’ve got a tape I want to play.” As soon as he walks out onto the stage and pops a tape in his boom box, you know you’re in for a treat.
Byrne launches in to an energetic and captivating acoustic performance of “Psycho Killer”, one of Talking Heads’ most well-known songs, reeling around the stage with a trademark paranoid look in his eyes.
Byrne’s performance is the opening to what many consider the greatest concert film of all time, Stop Making Sense. The movie was filmed over the course of three nights at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater in December 1983 using mostly white light and lengthy shots. Byrne is joined by one member of the band for each successive song, until the stage is packed for “Burning Down The House”. The film also features Byrne’s iconic oversized suit and eccentric dance moves.
I’m not exactly sure why I love Stop Making Sense so much. The music certainly plays a large role–every song featured is catchy and meaningful. The pure energy which the film manages to convey is also impressive and moving. The band’s technical skill is easily observable; Bassist Tina Weymouth bass and drummer Chris Frantz artfully create the perfect backdrop groove for Byrne to dance across and manipulate. And yet the band manages to appear nonchalant and intense at the same time despite Byrne’s tense, paranoid character.
The moment when the band is finally all on stage for “Burning Down The House” is a particularly stunning one. The amazingly energetic performance takes what is perhaps Talking Heads’ most famous song to even greater heights.
Perhaps my favorite part of Stop Making Sense is the performance of “Once In A Lifetime”. Byrne has said that the song’s lyrics are modeled after the unique syntax of televangelists, and it shows. The song builds steadily until it reaches a crescendo as Byrne shouts “time isn’t holding us, time isn’t after us” over cascading, forceful guitar strums. One wide, contrasting “chiaroscuro” shot of Byrne makes up over seventy-five percent of the song’s five minute duration, allowing the viewer to focus completely on the song.
The film ends with “Crosseyed and Painless”, the first song that features shots of the audience. The audience inclusion surprises the viewer and helps them feel involved in the final moments of the concert, knowing that they’ve witnessed something unique.
There’s nothing like Stop Making Sense.