Sunday, December 11, 2011

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: TALKING HEADS: CHRONOLOGY (DVD)

This is perhaps my favourite kind of music DVD, a collection of live footage, mostly taken from TV shows and rare filmed concert appearances.  In fact, I bet there's two or three times this available, but they chose the less-is-more plan, and compiled a solid, career-spanning 90 minutes.  Plus, the bonus material includes a nifty 35-minute documentary from England's South Bank Show, so I can't complain, we're over two hours now.  Plus, you have to watch it twice, because there is a great commentary track featuring all four band members, reacting to the times, the clothes, the goofiness, the fans.  Tellingly though, David Byrne was recorded separately, cementing their status as Least Likely To Reform 80's band.

What a joy it is to see such early footage, way back to 1975, pre-first album, and while the band was still a three-piece, Jerry Harrison not on board yet.  And of all places, it's CBGB's, where the band were one of the stalwarts along with The Ramones, Blondie, etc.  There are embryonic versions of With Our Love and I'm Not In Love, and then, bam, there it is, a 1975, CBGB's 3-piece, different lyrics, Psycho Killer.  It's the New Wave version of finding film of The Beatles with Pete Best at the Star Club.  Then hop ahead a year, and here's this very shy, bizarre guy, Byrne, unable to simply introduce a song, any song, without messing it up.  To show us how incapable he was, there's a montage of just introductions captured at The Kitchen in NYC, and you have to wonder how this guy ever became an MTV star.

Yet, he did.  Watch Byrne and the band blossom, as they see their anti-rock star system bizarrely make them, well, rock stars.  Marvel at them on American Bandstand, doing Take Me To The River, a minor hit, and being interviewed by Dick Clark.  While they might have seem as cool as ice, the commentary track reveals how thrilled they were to be there, amazed that it wasn't just the artsy New York scene for them anymore.  By the time they were debuting bona fide hits such as Burning Down The House on the new, hip Late Night With David Letterman show, it was a night-and-day difference in confidence.

It was a different band, too.  They expanded in the latter half of the group's run, adding extra guitar, keys, percussion, vocalists, expanding to 11 members on some shows.  Again, we are watching them grow up, quite literally grow bigger, a night-and-day difference from the three-piece in less than a decade.  And then.. it died, and quite quickly.  After the muddle of True Stories (a totally unmemorable album and film), Byrne pulled the plug, and it's been.... testy.  That's why it's great to see the performance of Life During Wartime from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions in 2002, see how much fun they are having, and getting that confirmed by Tina Weymouth on the commentary track.  Plus, even though he doesn't deign to sit with the other three for such a recording, at least they have nothing but positive, and even loving things to say about each other.  Or rather, the people they see on the screen from those halcyon days.  It's an excellent DVD, a fun-filled two hours, and damn, you know, here's one band I wish could get back together, it would be a heck of a lot more appealing than The Police.

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