Music

Stop Making Sense review – a once in a lifetime Talking Heads show

David Byrne's group are preserved in their youthful glory in Jonathan Demme's film. Are today's artists finally following their lead?

The Talking Heads line-up for the concert film 'Stop Making Sense' (L-R Steve Scales, Bernie Worrell, Jerry Harrison, Ednah Holt, David Byrne, Lynn Mabry, Tina Wemouth, Chris Frantz and Alex Weir)

1984: The Talking Heads line-up for the concert film 'Stop Making Sense' (L-R Steve Scales, Bernie Worrell, Jerry Harrison, Ednah Holt, David Byrne, Lynn Mabry, Tina Wemouth, Chris Frantz and Alex Weir) pose for a portrait in 1984. (Photo by Sire Records/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

I recently had the glorious and surreal pleasure of re-watching the greatest concert movie ever in an IMAX cinema, newly restored in eye-popping 4K for its 40th anniversary. I’ve seen Talking Heads’ 1984 classic Stop Making Sense umpteen times. But I couldn’t help but grin, thinking about the contrast between my first formative experiences with the film – in a scuzzy student flat where my friends and I would watch it religiously on DVD on a wonky TV set amid a mess of beer bottles and overflowing ashtrays – and watching it now. On a 354-square-metre ultra-high-resolution screen with surround sound and laser-aligned audio placement, nestled comfortably in a deluxe seat, sipping an XL coke. 

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

Beads of sweat on frontman David Byrne’s brow glistened like chandeliers, Bernie Worrell’s synth was blown up to the size of a small spaceship, Tina Weymouth’s basslines walloped me in the chest. The effect was so immersive that I found myself involuntarily turning my head and craning my neck at times, trying to get a better view of different people and things on the stage, tantalisingly out of shot. I wanted to clap, I wanted to shout. It felt, in brief brain-tricking moments, as if I were in [italic] Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre on one of those three nights in December 1983 when director Jonathan Demme shot the legendary NYC post-punk band at the ecstatic peak of their powers. A place and time which, given loan of the Tardis, I’d travel to in a heartbeat. 

Did it make me love Stop Making Sense even more? Not really. Studded as it is with most of Talking Heads’ best songs, some in their definitive versions; a concert playfully conceptual yet powered by pure kinetic energy and featuring some of the most iconic stagecraft ever dreamed up, it’s pure perfection no matter the medium by which you enjoy it. But my IMAX experience did leave me pondering on the good wisdom of Talking Heads never reforming since their break-up in 1991, and the changing and growing role technology is playing in enshrining and burnishing musicians’ legacies for future generations to share in.  

There’s been well-documented bad blood among members of Talking Heads since their split. But as part of promo in support of Stop Making Senses big return to cinemas – a consequence of its rights being acquired by A24, the American producers-distributors behind blockbusters Everything Everywhere All at Once and Uncut Gems – for the first time in over 20 years all four former members have been sharing stages again, albeit just for speaking events. Tensions look to have thawed, leading to inevitable speculation that a full reunion may be on the cards. 

But Byrne remains reluctant by all accounts, busy as he is with projects including bringing his rock musical Here Lies Love to Broadway. And probably it’s for the best. He’s in good shape for a 71-year-old, but prospect of him running laps of the stage to Life During Wartime as he does during the exhilarating Stop Making Sense performance, or dancing impishly with a thrift store floor lamp to This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody), or sweating buckets in a giant oversized business suit as he sings Girlfriend Is Better, seem scant, and indeed undesirable to see. If you too could be best remembered trapped in amber in the essence of your youth, then wouldn’t you prefer to be? 

ABBA’s decision to let tech turn back the years for them with their AI arena experience Voyage looks savvier and more pioneering all the time. Reunion tours by heritage artists are fundamentally a battle against the forces of nature and time – forces which, let’s face it, never lose. Good as some reunion tours may be, they’re all essentially reliant on an audience suspending its disbelief and buying the notion that, no, it doesn’t diminish our enjoyment if a singer’s once featherlight voice has plunged an octave with age, or a drummer’s tempo dropped to dragging pace. It’s all about climbing inside the metaphorical Tardis. 

How prescient were Talking Heads in so successfully capturing that prime moment in Hollywood in all its glory all those years ago? How many other artists may wish they’d done the same thing? Save for the likes of The Last Waltz and Buena Vista Social Club, other truly cinematic concert films are few and far between. 

But stars of today seem to be catching on to the idea. As I left the theatre after Stop Making Sense, the first thing I saw in the lobby was a poster for Taylor Swift’s The Era’s Tour movie, which arrives in IMAX cinemas this month. In December, Beyonce’s Renaissance Tour will hit the big screen, as the two biggest pop stars on Earth continue to duke it out for box office bragging rights not just in stadiums but multiplexes. 

I wonder if there isn’t more to it than just money and posterity, and whether there’s an element of banking high-quality visual data, for a future in which the pandora’s box of AI is opened further still with terrifyingly power and potential? Fast forward another 40 years, when Swift will be roughly the age Byrne is now, and she may not need to still be playing live all that often – her perma-young digital avatar could be doing it for her. 

Me I’m satisfied to keep re-watching Stop Making Sense for the rest of my days, whether it’s in an IMAX or at home on a crappy TV. I want to time travel again and again.  

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy!

If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.

You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Olly Murs on mental health and losing Caroline Flack: 'She visits me in my dreams – it's lovely'
Olly Murs and Caroline Flack in 2015
Mental health

Olly Murs on mental health and losing Caroline Flack: 'She visits me in my dreams – it's lovely'

Labi Siffre: 'I've had far more difficulties in my life due to being a homosexual than being Black'
Labi Siffre
Letter To My Younger Self

Labi Siffre: 'I've had far more difficulties in my life due to being a homosexual than being Black'

'When I was mentally ill, I could only listen to hard techno': Why is music so important to us?
Music

'When I was mentally ill, I could only listen to hard techno': Why is music so important to us?

Jingoism of Rule, Britannia! has long felt shameful. Is it finally time for BBC Proms to axe it?
A 1990s BBC Proms in the Park concert
Music

Jingoism of Rule, Britannia! has long felt shameful. Is it finally time for BBC Proms to axe it?

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know