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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