Rocking Heads

Via Star Tribune

By Colin Covert

I typically leave DVD reviews and music news to my colleagues Randy Salas or Bream-enschneider but events demand otherwise. Palm Pictures' new Blu-ray edition of "Stop Making Sense" dropped today. Filmed in 1984, it feels timeless. For my money, it's the finest filmed rock performance ever, a concert that's exhilirating, emotionally thrilling and intellectually stimulating - truly a "Once in a Lifetime" experience.

Directed with fluid grace by Academy Award winner Jonathan Demme, this film abandons the vocabulary of rock docs -- hectic cutting, freakout camerawork, interminible shots of yobs in the audience punching the air -- and approaches the project as an epic piece of conceptual art. With brilliant cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth ("Blade Runner") and austere lighting effects designed by the band's frontman David Byrne, the look of the piece is coffee table book elegance. Freeze any frame and you have an image worth framing.

The obvious thing to do here would be linking to a YouTube clip, but the DVD is so much crisper that it would be misleading.

I'll leave the music commentary to those better qualified than me. Suffice it to say this disc is a sublime introduction to a legendary art-rock band if you're a newcomer and an indispensible greatest-hits collection for casual fans.

It feels as if "Stop Making Sense" has been latest, expanded, updated, rejiggered eand reissued very couple of years since its initial release. For this rollout, there's a never-before-seen hourlong press conference with the band reminiscing about the production, and the financial sacrifices they accepted to make the ambitious tour and film as they envisioned it.

One of the coolest features of the film is that for all its bafflements -- why the XXXXL white suit? -- it boasts a solid sense of dramatic structure. Byrne, the arch-geek of the Eighties, opens the film with a solo performance of "Psycho Killer" on acoustic guitar and a beatbox drum track on cassette. He stands isolated on the bare stage, behind him the exposed bare bones of the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. With each new song another member of the group joins him and stagehands roll out more equipment and bits of constructed set. The sound builds, the visual environment grows richer, Byrne's spazzy dance moves become more easy and joyous and before you know it he's dancing with floor lamps. When they reach the next-to-final number, a funkified version of Al Green's "Take Me to the River," the solitary man is in soulful communion with the music and his bandmates. They've built a happy little community onstage.

Plenty of days I'd like to move there myself.

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