A pair of immaculate white sneakers, being worn by the lead singer of The Talking Heads, David Byrne, walk out onto a bare stage while an unseen audience applauds. Byrne places a radio on the stage beside him and says, “I have a tape I want to play for you.” Accompanied only by a drum machine and an acoustic guitar, Byrne launches into a performance of Psycho Killer that ends with him lurching across the stage like a marionette that is losing its strings.
So begins the greatest concert film of all time, Stop Making Sense.
As Psycho Killer comes to an end, Byrne is joined on stage by bassist Tina Weymouth. While Byrne and Weymouth perform Heaven, the black-clad stage crew sets up a drum kit behind them. Drummer Chris Frantz comes out for the third song, Thank You For Sending Me An Angel. The fourth member of the Talking Heads, Jerry Harrison, appears on stage for Found A Job and is then followed by several touring members of the band, including legendary keyboardist Bernie Worrell, guitarist Alex Weir, percussionist Steve Scales, and backup singers, Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt. It’s not until the concert’s sixth song, Burning Down The House, that the entire band is on stage.
Pieced together from three separate shows performed at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, Stop Making Sense showcases one of the most important bands of the 80s at their absolute best. Eschewing any candid footage of the band backstage and only occasionally showing any shots of the audience, Jonathan Demme keeps the focus on the music and David Byrne’s amazing showmanship. Even more than the music, what really makes Stop Making Sense stand out is Byrne’s physicality. During one instrumental passage, Byrne even runs around the stage in circles before jumping back to his microphone without missing a beat.
Though the entire band is in great form, Byrne is almost always the focus of attention. The only time he’s not is when he goes backstage during a performance of Genius Of Love by Weymouth and Frantz’s side project, The Tom Tom Club. During that time, Byrne is changing into the “big suit,” the costume that continues to define the Talking Heads to this day.
Along with Burning Down The House, highlights include Life During Wartime,
Once in a Lifetime,
and Stop Making Sense‘s most famous moment, David Byrne performing Girlfriend is Better while wearing the iconic “big suit.”
Stop Making Sense is a fun, exhilarating, and sometimes exhausting concert film and, given all the bad feelings that exist between Byrne and the other three members of the band, it’s probably as close as any of us will ever get to experiencing The Talking Heads live.
For tomorrow’s movie a day, I’ll be explaining why Blue Chips always makes me think of England.