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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