By Randy Lewis
I vividly recall how innovative and engaging the Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense” tour was when it swung through Southern California in 1983. From the moment singer-songwriter David Byrne casually walked onstage, set down a boom box, punched a button that started the rhythm track and started strumming his acoustic guitar while singing “Psycho Killer,” the show unfolded as a brilliantly crafted combination of music, theater, costuming, lighting and funky fun that just kept building until it hit a monumental climax some two hours later.
It holds up remarkably well 26 years later in the new Blu-ray edition being released this week of Jonathan Demme’s film of that landmark concert.
Watching the Blu-ray version, what struck me as even more impressive a quarter century later — on the 25th anniversary of the film’s 1984 theatrical release — is just how much the Talking Heads gave those of us in the audience to think about, see, hear and feel simultaneously.
So many of today’s blowout concert productions strive to dazzle the eye or pummel the ear, and that’s pretty much where all too many start and stop. But Byrne, drummer Chris Frantz, bassist Tina Weymouth and keyboardist Jerry Harrison seemed to be simply bursting with inspired elements to pack into “Stop Making Sense.”
The Blu-ray disc makes the most of the sparkling sound and brightly colored visuals of the digitally recorded shows, which featured a touring band that gradually expanded over the course of the evening from just Byrne to the full quartet, augmented by another half-dozen singers and instrumentalists. The disc includes several bonus features, including a previously available segment in which Byrne, in a series of whimsical costumes and wigs, interviews himself, his doppelgänger outfitted in the famous “big suit” from the concert.
There’s also a mini-documentary on that suit, which seemed to have a kinetic life of its own when Byrne appeared in it late into the performance. Another piece shows the storyboards for the show and how they evolved into what eventually appeared onstage. Heads completists will be happy with two bonus tracks that were played on tour but deleted from the film to streamline its pacing.
New to this disc is the complete 1999 press conference for which the four original band members reunited for a 15th anniversary release of the film, which Demme said cost a mere (in today’s terms) $1 million to shoot.
"I'm a rock fanatic, and I've seen hundreds of live shows all over the world," Demme told The Times in 1985. "And precious few bands can really support 90 minutes of attention. But the Heads are so ultra-interesting to watch, and David Byrne is a living phenomenon who has to be experienced. He's a full-blown original, and I just knew that was going to work for the movie. I knew that for people who had never seen Talking Heads, this film would be an instant revelation."
The brilliant thing about “Stop Making Sense,” which remains one of the most inventive rock concert events ever, was the richness of artistic imagination, not its budget.