Monday, February 6, 2012

Review: 'Talking Heads Chronology'

Jagged and unpredictable, Talking Heads get the live retrospective they deserve with Eagle Vision’s new compilation, Talking Heads Chronology. One moment David Byrne is cooing otherworldly sounds during a level check at The Kitchen in 1976. Flash to an amateurish trio shoe-gazing awkwardly at CBGB a year earlier. Byrne stutters through music-devoid introductions back at The Kitchen. Suddenly, Jerry Harrison has joined the fold, and both the musical and video quality spaz into focus on “The Old Grey Whistle Test”, 1978. A swarm of curly fans trumpet their new favorite band soberly outside the Entermedia Theatre later that year. The confines of NYC clubs and TV studios expand to open-air festivals; the band doubles its ranks for the “Remain in Light” shows. Jar from artful black & white to flat-video color to rich film stock. In little over an hour, Talking Heads Chronology covers much ground while traipsing behind a band that covered even more. The results are as unsettling and thrilling as the music that jets from sparse, angular garage rock to enveloping funk. David Byrne evolves from timid scarecrow to bubblegum-legged sock monkey to big-suited icon to snow-capped elder statesman during the exhilarating Rock and Roll Hall of Fame reunion.

Talking Heads Chronology drags along bonuses as essential as the main event. New interviews with all four original Heads form the rare commentary track you won’t want to hear with your thumb poised over the fast-forward button. Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, and Jerry Harrison provide insights into the CBGB scene, the songwriting process, and the meanings behind their work (we learn that Byrne intended “Psycho Killer” to be “a folky, introspective version of an Alice Cooper-type song”). They also dish out funny anecdotes about the colorful characters that strayed their way: Dick Manitoba, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Robert Fripp, John Cale. Whatever personality conflicts existed between the band members is undetectable in their respectful, loving commentaries.

Less enlightening but nearly as valuable, a vintage “South Bank Show” documentary contrasts the disjointed nature of the feature presentation with a taut portrait of where Talking Heads were in 1979 as they rehearsed Fear of Music in their sweltering NYC loft. An awkward Byrne interview from 1978 indicates how much more comfortable in his geeky skin he’d grow in the span of a mere year. Such shock-quick evolution is all over Talking Heads Chronology. You should be all over it too.

Talking Heads Chronology is available in a plastic DVD case and as a hardbound deluxe edition “with a 48 page book containing photographs and an unexpurgated Lester Bangs essay written as a review of the 'Fear Of Music' album for The Village Voice in 1979 but only ever published in a heavily edited version.”

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