RIDE, RISE, ROAR: DAVID BYRNE – A LIVE CONCERT FILM (2011)
Starring David Byrne, Mark Degli Antoni, Paul Frazier, Mauro Refosco, Graham Hawthorne, Lily Baldwin, Natalie Kuhn, Steven Reker, Kaissa, RedRay Frazier, Jenni Muldaur, Noemie Lafrance, Annie-B Parson, Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs.
Directed by David Hillman Curtis.
Distributed by Eagle Rock Entertainment. 87 minutes. Not Rated.
Almost thirty years ago, David Byrne and his former band renovated the live album with The Name of this Band is Talking Heads – returning the nuance and art to a format which had become a bit bloated by the arena rock bombast of Frampton Comes Alive, Cheap Trick Live in Budokan and KISS Alive II.
Twenty-seven years ago, the art-school punks made arguably the definitive concert film – with movie director Jonathan Demme at the reigns, Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense was directly responsible for making live music a visual medium as well as a sonic one.
However, the Talking Heads would break up only a few albums after that film. After the 1988 failure of their album Naked, Byrne cut ties with the band and has stubbornly refused to reunite with his compatriots to record or tour – though he did get back together with the old gang for a single soundtrack song in 1991, to promote the 15th anniversary of Start Making Sense and they did do a single live performance together when they were voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
Since then, Chris and Tina Weymouth continued their side project Tom Tom Club and Jerry Harrison concentrated on his solo and production careers. The three even reunited once in the late 90s as The Heads – using a series of celeb guest lead vocalists like Michael Hutchence and Debbie Harry to replace their absent front man – but the album was a complete flop.
At the same time, no one – Byrne included – can deny that his solo career has been a bit of a disappointment since the breakup. It’s rather telling that Byrne’s best-known solo(-ish) project – the Afro-beat My Life in the Bush of Ghosts made with Talking Heads producer Brian Eno – was made while the band was still together. After that, Rei Momo and Uh-Oh made minor commercial inroads and occasional one-off compilation songs got a little notice, but probably as a performer he was mostly forgotten when he reunited with Eno for Everything That Happens Will Happen Today in 2008.
That led to a recharged artist spurt and got Byrne back on the road for the first time in years for a “Byrne sings Byrne and Eno” tour – a tour that spawned this concert video. The idea behind the tour was simple. Byrne would perform songs he wrote with Eno, both on the two duet albums and during Eno’s tenure working with Talking Heads – Eno produced and collaborated on the classic early albums More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, and Remain in Light.
Oddly, two songs here, the smash hit “Burning Down the House” and the favorite album track “Road to Nowhere” were plucked from the band’s first two post-Eno albums, Speaking in Tongues, and Little Creatures. I suppose they were too well-known for Byrne to ignore; format be damned.
This renewed vigor is shown right away when Byrne storms out the gate doing the Talking Heads classic “Once in a Lifetime.” His shock of black hair has since gone completely gray, but otherwise the guy hasn’t changed a bit in almost 30 years and his idiosyncratic, off-kilter vocals and awkward dancing are immediately welcome.
To keep things visually interesting – Byrne was an art school geek, after all – he supplemented his music with a modern dance troupe, giving the concert a bit of the feel of a stage musical or recital.
But it is the music that really burns down the house here, with classic songs like “Life During Wartime,” “I Zimbra” and “Heaven” all sounding just as good as they did in 1979. Tunes from the new Byrne/Eno album – such as “Life Is Long,” “My Big Nurse” and “I Feel My Stuff” – fit in nicely with the better-known retro glances of the show.
Is it a big surprise that the best songs here are the old Talking Heads tunes? Probably not. Still, it’s nice to see that in a world after CBGBs, the old art/punker still has some tricks up his sleeve.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 31, 2011.