LIFF30 Review: Stop Making Sense – a victory lap for an under-appreciated band

Stop Making Sense, Talking Heads’ 1984 concert film, begins with frontman David Byrne on an empty, undressed stage with a guitar and a boombox performing Psycho Killer, the first song he wrote. The stage is set up during the performances, as he is gradually joined by bassist Tina Weymout, drummer Chris Frantz and guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison. They play some of the band’s earlier material, a twitchy mix of punk and funk that was one of the biggest building blocks in defining New Wave as a genre.

‘The band are phenomenal performers, exuding energy throughout’

A black screen then descends behind them and they are joined by members of the extended touring band, including the late keyboardist Bernie Worrell. From here on out they mainly stick to songs from 1980’s polyrhythmic Remain in Light (the final chapter of their collaborations with Brian Eno) and 1983’s maximalist, synth and funk heavy Speaking in Tongues. The film is a stunning achievement, even just from the concept of building a stage mid-show. The band are phenomenal performers, exuding energy throughout. Byrne yelps and contorts; he goes from sprinting laps around the band for Life During Wartime to dancing with a lamp at the end of This Must Be The Place.

He retreats for a song, coming back for the final few songs wearing the infamous big suit. The entire band is choreographed, doing things that constantly amuse and, well, don’t make much sense. They show an uninhibited weirdness and goofiness that only adds to the performances and never detracts from them. It’s the antidote to so much unavoidable bland music that takes itself far too seriously. Director Jonathan Demme does an excellent job in capturing all that goes on. A terrific watch, never ceasing to entertain, innately innovative, this is a victory lap by a severely under-appreciated band.

Ramzi Ramadan

(Image courtesy of Talking Heads)

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