Posts Tagged ‘Fear of Music’

This is the key album in Talking Heads‘ evolution. Their first two albums were leading directly to ‘Fear of Music,’ which, with assistance from producer Brian Eno, manages to sound like the future. David Byrne paints a bleak picture lyrically, but musically the band has never been more inviting. “I Zimbra” and “Life During Wartime” were just the start. ‘Fear of Music”s success allowed them to take their musical exploration even further out the next time around, when they made their masterpiece.

One of the highlights “Life During Wartime” by The Talking Heads is as a sci-fi premise, scenes from a dystopian future that we will never have to encounter. Yet the urgency and immediacy of the band’s performance suggests that we are never very far from having to navigate our way with caution through streets that were once familiar; to reconsider the motivations of even our most familiar acquaintances; to literally run for our lives.

The band’s 1979 album Fear Of Music, the song is credited to all four group members (David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz.) That’s because the relentlessly grooving music came out of a jam session. To match the propulsive instrumental backing, Byrne came up with lyrics inspired by his then-home in the Alphabet City section of Manhattan. His view of urban life was that it did require savvy and survival instincts beyond the norm, even if it hadn’t yet degenerated into complete chaos.

Byrne’s vision of the future, as expressed to NME at the time of the record’s release, was striking in its accuracy: “There will be chronic food shortages and gas shortages and people will live in hovels. Paradoxically, they’ll be surrounded by computers the size of wrist watches. Calculators will be cheap. It’ll be as easy to hookup your computer with a central television bank as it is to get the week’s groceries.”

“Life During Wartime” plays like you’ve been dropped into the middle of a thriller where your next move might be your last; it’s thrilling and harrowing all at once. Byrne doesn’t waste any time setting up the stakes, as evidenced by the opening lines: “Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons/ Packed up and ready to go.” Within just the first verse, we find the narrator listening to gunfire and contemplating where to bury the bodies.

The lyrics do an excellent job of expressing how disorienting such a life might be, as the protagonist’s identity and even his physical looks are malleable. The comforts of life are replaced by the necessities: “I got some groceries, some peanut butter/ To last a couple of days/ But I ain’t got no speakers, ain’t got no headphones/ Ain’t got no records to play.” The immortal lines “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco/ This ain’t no fooling around” were taken by some as a slam at disposable music, when in actuality it was a reference to how such a future would remove any chance for frivolity in daily existence.

As the song progresses, the protagonist gets more and more frantic, his paranoia and his reality practically inseparable. Yet we learn that he has a cohort in his adventures, and a brief break in the battle materializes: “You make me shiver, I feel so tender/ We make a pretty good team.” It’s short-lived, however, as the chase resumes and the music fades out before Byrne can even finish his tale, suggesting that there will be no more respites from this point forth.

“Life During Wartime” didn’t make much of a dent on the pop charts, but it did further cement the band’s status as one that could fuse innovation with accessibility; here was Armageddon disguised as a dance party. You can call the song ahead of its time, but it might be more accurate to say that the future described always seems to be a moment away from transpiring.

Talking Heads at the Electric Ballroom – London England – December 07th, 1979
This is one of the final concerts from the Fear of Music Tour, and among the last shows as the four-piece band. This is the first of two nights,

Fear of music…. What a fantastic collection of songs. Also a swan song for the worlds number one college band. Their sound at the time so raw musically and Byrnes lyrics so bereft of traditional constraint. At times, More like internal conversations to deal with unresolved issues….. Mind, Cities, Paper And the stand out track. Electric Guitar.

Setlist:  01 tuning 02 Artists Only 03 Stay Hungry 04 Cities 05 Paper 06 Mind 07 Heaven (false start) 08 Heaven 09 Electric Guitar 10 Air 11 Animals 12 Love > Building on Fire 13 Found a Job (beginning cut) 14 Memories Can’t Wait 15 Psycho Killer 16 tuning17 Encore: Life During Wartime

Talking headbostonteparty

Available now from Amazon, these two cd set are the same show Featuring an excellent radio broadcast from Talking Heads in August 1979 when, back on home turf in Boston, Massachusetts, the band played a rip roaring set to those smart enough to have bought a ticket and those lucky enough to have been living in the greater Boston vicinity to whom local FM radio transmitted the entire proceedings. Included as bonus tracks on this disc are the two cuts the group had played on Saturday Night live a few months before, which in completion, make for a superb package of Talking Heads music from a time when this ground breaking collective were the hottest thing around and the name on every hipsters lips.

talking heads boston

Recorded at The Berklee School of Music, Boston 24th August 1979. FM Broadcast. The 1979 Talking Heads tour, promoting the release of their “Fear Of Music” album, would be the last to feature the stripped down quartet lineup and the first to gain them significantly more exposure in America. They had established themselves in Europe, America was just catching on to what an intriguing and captivating live band they were. one of the wildest and most memorable performances on this breakthrough tour. With the original B52’s opening this show, there was plenty of momentum before The Heads even hit the stage. This, combined with playing before an intelligent and relatively home turf audience, ignited an inspired performance. These excerpts, originally broadcast via the King Biscuit Flower Hour, capture several highlights from this memorable night. The band’s sound was clearly evolving, containing more complex rhythmic structures and song arrangements. The new songs had increasingly funny, yet even more thought-provoking lyrics. The overt awkwardness that frontman David Byrne often displayed onstage was just beginning to be perceived as the uninhibited expression that it really was, with many now dancing to it. His unusual vocal affectations were engaging and the music was clearly beginning to resonate more deeply, particularly in a live context. “Stay Hungry” begins the recording in a somewhat ominous style, with Jerry Harrison‘s keyboards adding even creepier textures than the album version. “Cities,” a track from Fear Of Music follows. It’s a galloping romp through Byrne’s stream of consciousness thoughts about city life. The last three tracks are all classics and equally fantastic performances. First up is a thoroughly engaging rendition of the non-album single side “(My Love Goes To A) Building On Fire.” The “Psycho Killer” that closes this set is outstanding, featuring Byrne firmly in the land of no self-consciousness and the entire group ripping into a wild jam with Byrne and Harrison both blazing on guitars. (Think of the heavy psychedelic fuzz guitar jam in the middle of The Chambers Brothers “Time Has Come Today” and you wouldn’t be far off). Following an ecstatic audience demanding more, they return for an encore of their unique take on Al Green’s “Take Me To The River”. Originally a gospel number, Talking Heads completely redefine the song and in the process make it their own. Shortly after this tour, Talking Heads would begin overtly expanding their musical parameters. Their studio recordings would soon reach an unparalleled intensity (and density) on their next album. They would make truly inspired choices at augmenting the stage band, without diluting any of their originality. With the help of MTV and its heavy rotation of the music video for “Once In A Lifetime” the following year, the band’s music would reach a much broader audience.