Watch a Very Nervous, 23-Year-Old David Byrne and Talking Heads Performing Live in NYC (1976)

“This is a per­son who is pro­found­ly uncom­fort­able address­ing an audi­ence and yet puts him­self in that posi­tion,” David Byrne told Stu­dio 360’s Kurt Ander­son in 2019, as they watched some of the above footage of his 23-year-old self fronting a live Talk­ing Heads’ per­for­mance back in 1976.

Every­thing was pret­ty new back in that Bicen­ten­ni­al year.

Talk­ing Heads had formed the year before, when Byrne and drum­mer Chris Frantz, who’d been band­mates at the Rhode Island Col­lege of Design, moved to New York City with Frantz’s girl­friend, bassist Tina Wey­mouth.

The venue host­ing this live per­for­mance, New York City’s leg­endary exper­i­men­tal art space, The Kitchen, was slight­ly less wet behind the ears, hav­ing opened its doors in 1971. (Some 30 years lat­er, elder states­man Byrne was the guest of hon­or at its annu­al spring gala.)

How­ev­er you define it — New Wave, no wave, post-punk art pop — the band’s sound was also fresh, though Byrne sug­gests, in the inter­view with Ander­son, there was noth­ing new about his youth­ful cock­i­ness:

…like a lot of bands, artists, every­thing else, any peri­od real­ly, you tend to think that, um, the per­va­sive stuff around you is crap and you and your friends are…we’re doing the real stuff. 

And opti­misti­cal­ly, one might think, since we’re doing the real stuff and it has real soul and pas­sion, and it’s of its moment, it rep­re­sents its moment, and so immod­est­ly, you think, “Of course! Things are just going to fall into your lap because you’re doing some­thing that has some truth to it. Uh…that cer­tain­ly doesn’t always hap­pen.

It hap­pened com­par­a­tive­ly quick­ly for Talk­ing Heads.

Sev­er­al of the songs they per­formed as a trio that March night at the Kitchen made it onto Talk­ing Heads: 77, the debut stu­dio album record­ed bare­ly a year lat­er, by which time a fourth mem­ber, Jer­ry Har­ri­son, had joined on key­boards and gui­tar.

Of par­tic­u­lar note above is Psy­cho Killer, which earned the band both noto­ri­ety, owing to the coin­ci­den­tal tim­ing of 1976 and 1977’s Son of Sam mur­ders, and their first Bill­board Hot 100 spot.

“This song was writ­ten a long time ago,” the young Byrne stut­ters into the micro­phone at the Kitchen, then apol­o­gizes for fid­dling with his clothes and equip­ment.

(“It’s all good!” Frantz calls out encour­ag­ing­ly from behind his drum kit.)

Accord­ing to the lin­er notes of Once in a Life­time: The Best of Talk­ing Heads, Byrne began work on the song in col­lege:

When I start­ed writ­ing this (I got help lat­er), I imag­ined Alice Coop­er doing a Randy New­man-type bal­lad. Both the Jok­er and Han­ni­bal Lecter were much more fas­ci­nat­ing than the good guys. Every­body sort of roots for the bad guys in movies.

Fans may note a dis­par­i­ty in the lyrics between this per­for­mance and record­ed ver­sions of the song. Here, the sec­ond verse goes:

Lis­ten to me, now I’ve passed the test

I think I’m cute, I think I’m the best

Skirt tight, don’t like that style

Don’t crit­i­cize what I know is worth­while

Psy­cho Killer stayed on the shelf for David Byrne’s Amer­i­can Utopia, the Broad­way show recent­ly filmed by Spike Lee. But it gave a far more pol­ished Byrne an excel­lent open­er for Talk­ing Heads’ 1984 con­cert film, Stop Mak­ing Sense.

The uncom­fort­able young front­man dressed like a “pro­le­tari­at every­man,” who the Kitchen’s press release described as “a cross between Ralph Nad­er, Lou Reed, and Tony Perkins.” And he has since man­aged to acquire some impres­sive per­for­mance chops over the course of a still flour­ish­ing career.

This is your chance to catch him at that awk­ward age when, as Byrne told Kirk Ander­son, he per­formed “because he had to”:

There was this means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that was being a per­former and writ­ing songs and singing them (that) was a way of, kind of being present to oth­er peo­ple — not just girls, but oth­er peo­ple in gen­er­al.

Setlist for The Kitchen, March 13, 1976:

00:00 — Introduction/soundcheck

02:13 — The Girls Want To Be With the Girls (Fea­tured on More Songs About Build­ings and Food in 1978)

06:05 — Psy­cho Killer (Fea­tured on Talk­ing Heads: 77 in 1977, with dif­fer­ent lyrics)

The lyrics of the 2nd verse of Psy­cho Killer is dif­fer­ent from the record­ed ver­sion!

10:55 — I Feel It In My Heart (Fea­tured on the deluxe ver­sion of Talk­ing Heads: 77, with dif­fer­ent lyrics)

15:28 — I Wish You Would­n’t Say That (Fea­tured on the deluxe ver­sion of Talk­ing Heads: 77)

18:15 — Infor­ma­tion about the record­ing

19:00 — Stay Hun­gry (Fea­tured on More Songs About Build­ings and Food)

24:35 — I Want To Live (Fea­tured on com­pi­la­tions such as Sand in the Vase­line, 1992 and Bonus Rar­i­ties & Out­takes, 2006)

29:48 — Ten­ta­tive Deci­sions (Fea­tured on Talk­ing Heads: 77)

32:55 — No Com­pas­sion (assumed, video ends before song starts)

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Talk­ing Heads Per­form The Ramones’ “I Wan­na Be Your Boyfriend” Live in 1977 (and How the Bands Got Their Start Togeth­er)

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

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

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Comments (3)
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  • T Mack says:

    Lots and lots of arti­cles online about David Byrne being a com­plete jack­ass self­ish, shut­ting out his band­mates Chris Frantz wrote a book about it. Tina Wey­mouth talks about him hav­ing tem­per tantrums refus­ing to come back on stage after aban­don­ing the gig in mid show. He told the oth­er Talk­ing Heads no to a reunion and said he would nev­er per­form TH songs live, and what does he do? Hires new play­ers to per­form TH songs for Amer­i­can Utopia. The media exalts the guy but he’s a prick

  • Matt Black says:

    The behav­ior of peo­ple on the far-from-nor­mal side of the Autism Spec­trum often gets them mis­tak­en for ass­holes, sociopaths, retards, you-name-it. Byrne has admit­ted it.

  • kj says:

    Thank you, Matt Black, for point­ing that out for peo­ple who might not be aware of that fact. It’s true.

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