Talking Heads Live in Rome, 1980: The Concert Film You Haven’t Seen

Few bands can boast a per­for­mance so image-defin­ing as the one the Talk­ing Heads pulled off in Jonathan Dem­me’s Stop Mak­ing Sense. Giv­en its phys­i­cal metic­u­lous­ness, its seam­less edit­ing, and its refined aes­thet­ic sense — qual­i­ties rarely pri­or­i­tized in rock con­cert films — its place in the zeit­geist seems well earned. But that pic­ture opened in 1984, when the band had already released its most wide­ly respect­ed albums, and when they had only four years to go before effec­tive­ly dis­solv­ing. Live in Rome, which you can now watch uncut on YouTube, cap­tures the Heads in 1980, a less estab­lished moment in their his­to­ry. David Byrne and com­pa­ny express the same kind of off-kil­ter ener­gy on dis­play in Stop Mak­ing Sense — the enthu­si­asm of punks who also hap­pen to be musi­col­o­gy nerds — but here they express it in a sim­pler, more tra­di­tion­al­ly “rock con­cert-ish” set­ting.

Talk­ing Heads enthu­si­asts, note that Live in Rome fea­tures the group’s full “Afro-Funk Orches­tra” line­up. Addi­tion­al­ly, you’ll see on gui­tar a cer­tain Adri­an Belew, who would begin fronting King Crim­son the fol­low­ing year. (As he might, in anoth­er real­i­ty, have front­ed the Heads them­selves; in our real­i­ty, he turned down an offer to take Byrne’s place.) The songs not heard in Stop Mak­ing Sense include “Stay Hun­gry,” “Cities,” “I Zim­bra,” “Drugs,” “Hous­es in Motion,” “Born Under Punch­es,” and “The Great Curve.” No die-hard fan will feel com­plete­ly sat­is­fied with this con­cert, of course, until some­one remas­ters it on Blu-Ray with a com­plete sur­round sound mix. But if you sim­ply need a hit of a pack of art-school rock­ers unlike any oth­ers Amer­i­ca has pro­duced, this Remain in Light-era hour mer­its a per­ma­nent book­mark. H/T Bib­liok­lept

Relat­ed con­tent:

Talk­ing Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” Per­formed on Tra­di­tion­al Chi­nese Instru­ments

David Byrne Inter­views Him­self, Plays Sev­en Char­ac­ters, in Fun­ny Pro­mo for Stop Mak­ing Sense

David Byrne: From Talk­ing Heads Front­man to Lead­ing Urban Cyclist

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (16)
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  • Alex says:

    Great share of a video I hur­ried to buy when it was released on DVD! I pre­fer it to Stop Mak­ing Sense musi­cal­ly as it focus­es heav­i­ly on my favorite TH albums, ‘Fear of Music’ and ‘Remain in Light’. Demme made a spot­less visu­al doc­u­ment of a good con­cert, but he did­n’t have Adri­an Belew on hand. Can’t blame him for that.

  • Danny Mac says:

    This is, with­out doubt, the great­est con­cert footage of any band I have ever seen. A band that was still find­ing its feet in many ways. The sounds, the cloth­ing, the line-up, it’s per­fect. Their “entourage” seem to be as hap­py to be play­ing with the group as the group are them­selves. If there was ever an exam­ple of a band not going through the motions, this is it. Spend an hour of your life watch­ing it, and then spend the rest of your life won­der­ing why no oth­er out­fit has come close to this ver­sion of per­fec­tion. It real­ly is that good.

  • Andrew van Zyl says:

    Dear Open Cul­turati-just to say a VERY big thank you for ALL the AMAZING work you folk put into the blog every­day. I am the librar­i­an at a boys’ high school in Pre­to­ria, South Africa, and have been fol­low­ing Open Cul­ture for about two years now. The first thing I do most morn­ings is to check what’s new on Open Cul­ture and then start down­load­ing and for­ward­ing bits and pieces on Alan Gins­berg (Eng­lish teach­ers), the Tran­sit of Venus (Geog­ra­phy, the Bill Evans trio to my music teach­ers and so forth. Thanks for all your hard work-it is very much appre­ci­at­ed. I am also on a nation­al list­serv for school librar­i­ans and reg­u­lar­ly for­ward mate­r­i­al from OC to them for fur­ther dis­tri­b­u­tion to their teach­ers. So in South Africa, at least, you are major stars! Please keep up the good work-you are enrich­ing the learn­ing of an entire gen­er­a­tion! Thanks, Andrew van Zyl
    (Librar­i­an: St Alban’s Col­lege. Pre­to­ria: South Africa)

  • Robin B says:

    Utter­ly fantastic.…Thank you for this. So many great mem­o­ries of a com­plete­ly unique band and time.

  • abc says:

    Adri­an Belew is pret­ty much the great­est thing ever

  • Icepulse says:

    Hon­est­ly, the musi­cal per­for­mances here are much stronger than found on the SMS film. Maybe it’s Belew, and maybe it’s because they hat­ed each oth­er just a lit­tle bit less than they would, four years lat­er dur­ing the “Speak­ing In Tongues” shows (Stop Mak­ing Sense).

    Regard­less, SMS focus­es a LOT on the sec­ond and fifth albums; two songs from “Fear Of Music”, ONE song from “TH:77” and two from “Remain In Light” is NOT a well-bal­anced show. I like “Speak­ing In Tongues” as much as the next guy, but there’s six songs from the album. Did we real­ly need “Swamp”? All three tracks from “S in T” that did­n’t make the film are bet­ter than “Swamp”. Then fill it in w/ two Byrne solo songs (good ones, grant­ed, and a Tom Tom Club clas­sic…

    Give me “Cities”, “Mind”, “Drugs”, “The Great Curve”, “Mem­o­ries Cant Wait”, “No Com­pas­sion”, “The Book I Read”, “First Week/Last Week…Carefree”…

    The new “Talk­ing Heads: Chronol­o­gy” DVD is much bet­ter, too.

  • Josh says:

    I feel Icepulse’s com­ment is real­ly unfair. Though this Rome con­cert is com­plete­ly and utter­ly fan­tas­tic, Stop Mak­ing Sense DID need 6 Speak­ing in Tongues songs because it was the Speak­ing in Tongues tour. That is like com­plain­ing that this Rome con­cert has too many Remain in Light songs. Also, if you look at the orig­i­nal set list of 20 songs they actu­al­ly per­formed on the Speak­ing in Tongues tour, there were a lot more ear­ly ones that just did­n’t make the film (Book I Read, Cities, Hous­es in Motion, etc.)

  • Michael Dominici says:

    Talk­ing Heads had such a great sound and so many real­ly great, mem­o­rable, and com­pelling songs. I miss their music, because nobody else had their per­spec­tive and their abil­i­ty to syn­the­size so many sounds and ideas in such a cos­mopoli­tan way.

  • digidave says:

    they are fir­ing on all cylin­ders. fun and inven­tive. got to hand it to dav­ey byrne…he likes to head off into musi­cal adven­tures where few ever dare to trav­el. that ital­ian audi­ence are fan­tas­tic.

  • Thomas Bregman says:

    Like it but where is the sound and feel of a con­cert? Audio sounds as if it was record­ed in a dark sound proof box. Pret­ty cool though. Was lucky enough to see them in ’78 and ear­ly 80’s.

  • Dan Cass says:

    Amaz­ing! Thanks for find­ing and shar­ing, qual­i­ty as always!

  • Jells says:

    I saw the Heads on this tour in Berke­ley. They were opened by the Eng­lish Beat on the Spe­cial Beat Ser­vice tour. Either one of them would have been the best show ever saw. The amaz­ing thing about Remain in Light was that they had reached a crit­i­cal lev­el of pop­u­lar­i­ty and instead of doing more of the same, they said “fol­low us!!” Where no band had gone before.

    FWIW, the Beat are still giv­ing amaz­ing per­for­mances reformed under Dave Wakel­ing.

  • Box says:

    I was there in “Palaeur” that day … beat con­cert ever after Bob Mar­ley in Milan.

  • umberto says:

    i was there, but i for­got the date
    could any­one help me?

  • RAD STEVENS says:

    awe­some share, love only for all and espe­cial­ly talkig heads — omfg this must be one of the most cook­ing gigs EVER like inter­lop­ing inter­galac­tic vis­i­tors hov­er­ing over Rome for the night. THE GREAT CURVE !!! wow it’s amaz­ing thx

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