Patrick Jensen (on Indefinite hiatus)’s review published on Letterboxd:
Talking Heads is a band I remember starting listening to during my final year of high school, and it's only natural that they would become one of my all-time favorite bands. For one, they are one of the main inspirations for bands such as TV on the Radio, Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, Foals, and of course every brainy kid's favorite band, Radiohead (they wrote the song that Thom Yorke and co. took their name from). Earlier this week, I ordered a Blu-Ray copy of Stop Making Sense, so I decided to watch it today. I'm kind of embarassed that I haven't seen Stop Making Sense before today, so I will do a track by track review of the setlist of the film:
1. Psycho Killer:
A great way to start off this film by giving us David Byrne alone with a drum machine, performing one of the band's first big hits in a stripped down rendition. The intensity of Byrne's vocals of the studio album version is a bit toned down, and Tina Weymouth's epic bass line is missing, but I still like this version, mostly thanks to Byrne's physicality while performing here. Also, it's no wonder why Talking Heads is one of Patrick Bateman's favorite bands in American Psycho ;)
Tina Weymouth enters the fray to grace us with her excellence on the bass. The song to me is definitely one of those special displays of irony. The peaceful delight of the afterlife is basically exposed as a monotonous ride, that over time will turn into hell. Still, the band gives us a great, sombre bridge into what slowly becomes a more energetic experience.
3. Thank You For Sending Me an Angel:
Chris Frantz joins Byrne and Weymouth to spark some energy with the opening track from "More Songs About Buildings and Food". A fine appetizer that basically promises us that this film is the fruit of the labor of the five excellent albums they had made up until this point.
4. Found a Job:
The band's line-up is completed now that Jerry Harrison is on-stage. Now it's only fitting for the band to perform a song about working with something that fulfills you and brings you joy. I still love this song for the fact that it predicted the job situation for many YouTubers and indie artists.
5. Slippery People:
The first song from "Speaking In Tongues" to appear here, the band's most recent album at this point. The band is joined by the supporting performers, who all bring even more energy to the film. Now we finally begin to get into the mood that has secured this film it's reputation as the best concert film ever made.
David Byrne might have once said that this song is utter nonsense and is about nothing at all. I don't know about you, but if you look up the lyrics, it might hint at the song being about one breaking down to be built up again. It's definitely the feeling I got from watching the band perform it here. I also think that this is probably the one song where Jonathan Demme and cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth (known for Blade Runner and Altered States) probably gets the closest to Byrne's face, further highlighting the intoxicating joy that the band spreads throughout the film.
The chaos of this song, set in a post-war/post-apocalyptic America, is perfectly complemented by Byrne's eccentric movements and the high-octane intensity that everyone brings to the table here. It even ends with Byrne running a few laps around the stage! One of the best songs performed in this film.
One of my favorite songs from "Speaking In Tongues", as it perfectly captures the sometimes overwhelming feeling of being an adult in our society, and how hard it can be to adjust at times. No wonder why they mark the first change of scenery in the film with this song!
Probably the most menacing song from Talking Heads' discography that is present here. Byrne's fascist-like movements further capture the critique of modern politics that the song presents you with. It's always great to see that the band still has the will to perform the darkest and sleaziest song from "Speaking In Tongues" here.
10. What a Day that Was:
One of the few songs here I was not familiar with. I have not delved that deep into the band members' individual side projects, but this song fit in perfectly here, as a follow-up to the darkness of "Swamp".
11. This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody):
The rare love song from David Byrne's hands at this point in Talking Heads' career. The song is about the one thing everyone wants and expects from the loves of their lives. A simple and direct wish for what you truly desire in life... and David Byrne is singing this song to a lamp. Well, the comfort of home is a more constant feeling than the feeling of happiness sadly is, and that's what makes this song so brilliant in its poignancy.
12. Once in a Lifetime:
David Byrne basically assumes the role of a cult leader, and it works! This film has the best rendition to me of this song that Talking Heads has ever performed. No more needs to be said about it.
13. Genius of Love:
Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz' side project Tom Tom Club performs their most famous song. I feel kind of stupid for knowing this song, but never actually knowing that this was a song by Tom Tom Club. Now I got wiser, but I also (deservedly) got struck by the strobe light assault during this performance!
14. Girlfriend is Better:
David Byrne's head definitely looks smaller, as he intended with The Big Suit. It's also a perfect fit for this song, which most likely is about a man who is giving in to his urges and ends up cheating on his girlfriend. Goddammit, wasn't I supposed to Stop Making Sense of things? On a lighter note, David Byrne proves he's the king of "white people dance"!
15. Take Me to the River:
I'm actually not sure if I prefer the original version by Al Green, even though both versions are still excellent. Green has a more excited and libidinous vocal, whereas Byrne's is more restrained and hesitant in the studio version. Here, though, it's as if Byrne incorporates some of Green's virility in his performance. Also, Byrne deserves credit for using white thiccness to give the backing vocalists a hard time keeping a straight face.
Did they just end the film with this song to check if we had fainted during the film's runtime? Nah, just kidding. It's the perfect song to end this show with. Everyone would have a hard time adjusting to everyday life, like the person in the lyrics to this song, after watching this film.
The frantic tone of this song would have been a perfect fit for the setlist, and it is understandably included in the final film in some versions. The best line of this song is still "[...] Memphis
Home of Elvis and the ancient Greeks
Do I smell? I smell home cooking
It's only the river, it's only the river"
I don't think much can be said here. I'm not sure if these two songs would have added much, even if "I Zimbra" is one of those songs that by design makes no sense, as it is a Dada poem by Hugo Ball.
In conclusion, Stop Making Sense most definitely lives up to its reputation as the best concert film ever made, if you ask me. Sure, I miss some of my favorite songs like "The Big Country" and "Memories Can't Wait", but overall, it's the best representation of Talking Heads I know of. Kudos to Jonathan Demme, Jordan Cronenweth and the rest of the crew for further cementing the influence of the awesome music that Talking Heads has made.