“Houses In Motion”: Talking Heads – Live In Rome (1980)

In my previous post I discussed Television, one of the great bands that came out of the New York rock scene of the 1970’s. In seemed natural to go from Television to another band that will forever be associated with CBGB, Talking Heads (as in “the name of this band is Talking Heads”). However, the record I want to talk about is not one of the early records that document their sound during their CBGB days. I want to discuss their fourth (an in my opinion, their best) record, Remain In Light.

Released in 1980, Remain In Light was a departure from their earlier records although the template for the sounds on Remain In Light can be traced back to the Fear of Music song  “I Zimbra”. The songs on Remain In Light were heavily influenced by the Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. Fela’s music, called afrobeat, is a mix of jazz, funk and Ghanaian/Nigerian music called High-life. Instead of of the band writing music to David Byrne’s lyrics, the music was developed from groves developed from jam sesions that were recorded one at a time in a discontinuous process. Byrne would subsequently improvise lyrics in a stream of consciousness fashion over the tracks. Those lyrics would often reflect a recurring theme in David Byrne’s music:  the strangeness of everyday life. The music, while usually just comprising of one chord, was all about the groove and featured interlocking melodic riffs and rhythms that gave the music an incredible sense of propulsion.

In order to play the more complex music live, the band’s core four were augmented with additional players. They included Adrian Belew on guitar, Bernie Worrell on keyboards, Steve Scales on percussion, Dolette McDonald as backing vocalist and in an interesting twist, Busta Jones as an additional bassist. They essentially made the ensemble a double quartet with two guitarists, two keyboard players, two bassists and two drummers. The expanded lineup added textures to the music that made it work. In particular, the contributions of Adrain Belew (who had previously played with Zappa and David Bowie and would go on to join King Crimson) and Bernie Worrell (a founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic) standout with may absolute favorite moment being Belew’s insane guitar solos in The Great Curve.

The video below was originally broadcast on Italian television and captures the band on the tour promoting Remain In Light. Unlike their epic concert film Stop Making Sense, the songs are presented in a more traditional concert setting. But what this video lacks in innovative staging it makes up for in Belew’s amazing guitar playing and by including some of the great songs that were not heard in Stop Making Sense: “Stay Hungry,” “Cities,” “I Zimbra,” “Drugs,” “Houses in Motion,” “Born Under Punches,” and “The Great Curve.”

0:27 – Psycho Killer
5:27 – Stay Hungry
9:33 – Cities
14:48 – Band Introduction
15:45 – I Zimbra
19:53 – Drugs
24:26 – Take Me to the River
30:15 – Crosseyed and Painless
36:56 – Life During Wartime
42:02 – Houses in Motion
48:51 – Born Under Punches
56:56 – The Great Curve

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Posted in Music Appreciation and Analysis

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