Watch the Talking Heads Play a Vintage Concert in Syracuse (1978)

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.

Set list:

  1. The Big Country
  2. Warning Sign
  3. The Book I Read
  4. Stay Hungry
  5. Artists Only
  6. The Girls Want to Be with the Girls
  7. The Good Thing
  8. Love Goes to Buildings on Fire
  9. Electricity
  10. Found a Job
  11. Take Me to the River
  12. I’m Not in Love
  13. No Compassion

Related Content:

Watch the Talking Heads Play Live in Dortmund, Germany During Their Heyday (1980)

Talking Heads Play CBGB, the New York Club that Shaped Their Sound (1975)

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

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

David Byrne: How Architecture Helped Music Evolve

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.

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  • James Belano says:

    I was at this concert in Syracuse while in graduate school. The concert was at Jabberwocky, a small venue run by the University student committee. The place was quite small and had small tables for patrons. It was a very intimate setting. It was a great setting for a great concert. As a side note, I previously saw TH at CBGB’s when they were still a trio, pre Jerry Harrison. They opened for Television. What a concert!

  • Willy says:

    I was at the Jabberwocky gig as well. This footage is not from there. There was no overhead lighting rig and directly behind the band was student cafeteria – style food service to get fries and crap beer. Everyone was seated at small tables. no more than 50 at this gig. I recall sitting maybe 10′ from Tina and David. Jabberwocky was underneath one of the dining halls and adjacent to my freshman year dorm whose nmae eludes me at the moment!

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