Tons of legacy acts have gotten back together for various reasons and durations, but there are a handful of ones that seem never likely to reunite. Talking Heads is certainly one of them; I haven’t read Chris Frantz’ s book but it appears as though bygones will not remain bygones. So when Adrian Belew convinced Jerry Harrison to shake off nearly 30 years of absence from the stage, it seemed like the best possible outcome to see Talking Heads material played live once again. (Note to Adrian – please do your best to convince Jonathan Richman to give Harrison a ring and get at least one Modern Lovers reunion gig going as well).
While he toured as a member of the band for a few years, the only studio work Belew did with the Heads was Remain In Light where he contributed a number of guitar solos and later joined the band with the expanded nine member lineup, some of the material captured on the second LP of the The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads live record, which served as a launching pad for a number of high profile gigs with the likes of David Bowie, King Crimson, Paul Simon, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Nine Inch Nails and, er, William Shatner.
Unsurprisingly for a 40+ year old record, the audience skewed pretty far into the AARP range, and most of the people under 30 who were there seemed to be dragged along by their parents. But for people (like myself) who never got to see Talking Heads play, the show hit the mark pretty well. First and foremost, the enjoyment these two got from playing these songs was unmistakable, grins plastered across their faces for the entire set. And the material itself was unassailable. Thankfully it wasn’t a rote front to back reading of the album, and songs from Fear Of Music and the first two records were sprinkled in as well, albeit the big hits like “Psycho Killer” that led off the night, their off-kilter version of Al Green’s “Take Me To The River” and the utterly danceable “Life During Wartime.” Also from that record was a non-Remain In Light highlight of the evening, the scintillating “Cities.”
Belew had plenty of fretboard gymnastic going on, as one would expect from the guy who released a solo record called “Twang Bar King”‘; how he kept his guitar in tune is a mystery. There were plenty of divebombs and when Harrison left the stage for a spot, he played “Thela Hun Ginjeet” from his time with King Crimson, sort of a math rock progenitor. Back to the main event, as a record Remain In Light has aged remarkably well and underscored the band’s transition from wiry new wave to fluid, polyrhythmic Afro-influenced rock, legit enough for Angelique Kidjo to reshape into her own vision. I can’t ever see how songs like “Crosseyed And Painless” or “Born Under Punches” would ever lose their edge and the performances were electric.
Part of the success was the backing band, Cool Cool Cool, a band formed in the ashes of Turkuaz. Featuring horns and keyboards and guitars and percussion and backing vocals that dovetailed with Harrison and Belew, they really fleshed out the sound exceedingly well. Unfortunately, their own opening set suffered from the lack of strength of the songs and felt like an 80s disco pop retread.