We’ve brought you Talking Heads shows from New York’s CBGB in 1975, Dortmund, Germany in 1980, and Rome that same year. Now we’ve got one more valuable live find from that formative, busy era for the David Byrne-led, Rhode Island School of Design-forged new-wave band: their November 1978 performance in Syracuse. The exact venue? Perhaps somewhere at Syracuse University, perhaps not, though a college performance space would make sense, given how many institutions of higher education they played in 1978. The Talking Heads Concert History blog has a complete list, and the total number of shows in that year alone comes in, astonishingly, at over 130, a fair few of them at schools like NYU, Brown, Berklee, Berkeley, UCLA, and the University of Arizona. “It was really an education for us,” the page quotes drummer Chris Frantz as saying of the 1978 tour. “I’m afraid we bit off more than we could chew. We thought that we could play every night, and we found that after four months we were feeling pretty uninspired.”
Yet this Syracuse gig, which came ten months in, sounds pretty inspired to me. It looks it, too, at least from what I can discern from the lo-fi footage. What the image lacks in crispness, though, it makes up for in technological interest; it has the signature look of the Sony Portapak, one of the very early portable consumer video recording systems beloved of the 1970s’ video amateurs and video artists alike. Whoever manned the Portapak for these 92 minutes in Syracuse captured a valuable chapter in the Talking Heads story, one the band spent working as hard as possible — which, of course, meant playing as hard, and as often, as possible — and refining their inimitable sound and sensibility in concert spaces that, while often low-profile, nevertheless provided them with excited and appreciative audiences. College students and otherwise, came eager to hear something new — and given that the 70s, that decade of slick disco and smooth rock, had almost come to a close, something a bit askew. The Talking Heads, as we see them here, could gladly deliver.
- The Big Country
- Warning Sign
- The Book I Read
- Stay Hungry
- Artists Only
- The Girls Want to Be with the Girls
- The Good Thing
- Love Goes to Buildings on Fire
- Found a Job
- Take Me to the River
- I’m Not in Love
- No Compassion
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.