Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Concert Series: Talking Heads

I was trying to make a comprehensive list of my musical tastes today and my mind took a tangent. I started thinking about great concerts/shows that I had seen in the past.

So this is the first in a possible series of reminisces of past shows that I feel fortunate to have seen.

My friends Rick, Adam, Andrew and I were inseparable during most of our middle and high school years. We would listen to music together after school at Adam's house or use the theater's sound system if we were working after school on a play. Rick had exceptional musical ability and progressive musical taste. He introduced me to Talking Heads, The Clash, Squeeze, The Buzzcocks, Elvis Costello, R.E.M., The Alarm, Adrian Belew and many, many others. Portland radio at the time (and still to a certain degree) was horrific in its lack of musical diversity and vision. KBOO being the only real exception.

Talking Heads were the band that really defined our musical connection. In 1983 (we were all 15) Talking Heads released Speaking In Tongues. While, they had some previous success and great critical acclaim, this was the album that really put them on the map. I remember Rick going to Tower Records on the day it was released and buying the special edition Robert Rauschenberg edition with clear vinyl and spinning art pieces. We thought we were so cool. As was the way of the day you played the record once to get a feel for it, taped it, and put it away. We treasured our records.

So when Talking Heads announced their tour dates and placed a December date at Portland's Civic Auditorium (now Keller Auditorium) we were all ecstatic. Rick got the tickets and we scored great seats. Row C, front center section. We'd be within spitting distance of David Byrne, Tina Weymouth and the rest. I think I had been to one real rock concert before so the whole experience was still rather new.

I can't remember much of the pre-festivites, other than Rick's mom dropping us off and being paranoid. But I remember arriving at the Civic and feeling the buzz of the event. Rick had saved up to get some concert tees so we went to the merch stand immediately. The one cool item was a hat with a special interlocking TH logo. Think New York Yankees only not evil and more linear. I loved the logo (I think it was adapted from Hanshin Tigers of Japanese baseball) but I was a cheap boy and had to pass. But the shirts were awful. Most of them were muscle T's (it was 1983 after all) and really rather uninteresting. For a band made up of former art students it was underwhelming.

So we made our way to our seats. It turns out Row C (which we thought was third row) turned out to be the fifth row as they added chairs above the orchestra pit. Still, we were in a great spot to see our favorite band.

The show was tremendous. This was one of the final concerts before Talking Heads filmed the classic concert film Stop Making Sense. Director Jonatahn Demme was likely at our show determining camera angles, moments to capture, etc. The concert we saw is basically what you see in the film. Backlit screens, big suit, dancing with the lamp, etc. But what I remember most about it was how much genuine fun it was. It wasn't angry like the punk shows I'd attend later in life. It wasn't extended, hippiefied grooves. It was fresh, funky, lively music at its best from a band at its creative zenith.

We screamed, "Tina, We LOVE you!" (I am certain I saw her smile and wink at me), we stood and danced and Adam almost caught one of Chris Frantz' drum sticks at the end of the show.

The band never toured again. So I feel incredibly fortunate to have seen them in one of their final shows. Their next three records all declined in quality and cohesiveness as the band started to splinter musically. But the best Talking Heads music was on display that night.

A few weeks ago KNRK's Perfect Playlist was from a guy named Matt. He used to DJ at KNRK in its early days. He was also two years behind us in high school. He finished his set with "Once In A Lifetime" and mentioned the cool kids in the theater who introduced him to so much music.

Who knew, maybe we really were cool?

Care to share memories of a great or important show?


Rachel (your almost cousin) said...

My very first concert was David Byrne at the Oregon Zoo- not the typical rock concert setting, but it was amazing nonetheless for a ten-year-old. The next week I saw Joan Baez at the zoo as well. Although both these musicians were past their prime, they were still talented enough and diverse enough to provide me with an excellent start to my concert-going saga.

Bruce said...

Hi Rachel!

Thanks for visiting and commenting. Thanks for the Tenacious D CD too from years back.