Jesse Jarnow

talking heads: 75

Last week, Owen brought over a bootleg DVD of the Talking Heads performing in their original three-piece lineup at CBGBs in December 1975. Needless to say, I was bloody well psyched. What I wasn’t expecting, and what I kind of enjoyed about it, was how bad it was. That’s not meant as an insult.

If anything, it came as a relief. It’s good to know that the Heads didn’t spring from the ground fully formed. During this performance (filmed in black and white), in what appears to be a not-very-packed CBs, the band runs down their early repertoire. David Byrne looks incredibly nervous, far from the charismatic frontman he’d become. Tina Weymouth, though not staring at her feet, doesn’t look much more assured.

The only member of the band who looks (or sounds) remotely comfortable is Chris Frantz, who holds the half-formed songs together with remarkable panache. Even “Psycho Killer,” which pre-dated the Heads’ existence, isn’t quite done. The killer bassline is there, but Byrne doesn’t have the phrasing of the “fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa”s finished yet.

With hindsight, one can see where the music would go, how those weird guitar patterns Byrne plays are his attempt to emulate African rhythms. But for anybody wandering in off the street that night, it must’ve just sounded like noise, maybe even to other punks. Of course, there were probably Heads fans who thought everything after Jerry Harrison joined the band was too polished.

It’s taken for granted that the Heads were art students, but they really look it here, maybe unsure how they ended up playing on the Bowery. It’s all very inspiring, of course, to be able to get that much closer to the germination of the idea, to know that — after the camera stopped rolling — they unplugged their gear and transported it the few blocks back to their loft on nearby Chyristie Street. “The name of this band is Talking Heads,” Byrne says (of course) before they begin. Who?

(If anybody knows where to find this video on the cybernets — it doesn’t appear to be on YouTube yet — please comment or drop me a line.)

1 Comment

  1. mattvb says: - reply

    On a somewhat related note, the 2006 reissue of Little Creatures includes early – and uninspired – studio versions of Road to Nowhere, And She Was, and Television. Perhaps they needed a warmup into the studio world, too.