The new Talking Heads Chronology DVD is an often fascinating look back at the short, but trailblazing career of one of rock and roll’s most unlikely success stories, as viewed through the rear view window of music video and documentary footage. But you won’t find any of the live sequences from the great Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, nor the MTV videos for songs like “Burning Down The House” here (though there is a performance of that song from the old David Letterman show).
Instead,Chronology tells the Talking Heads story through the use of more rarely seen footage, that stretches from the band’s earliest days at New York punk rock clubs like CBGB, to their reunion upon the event of their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
Along the way, we see the band evolve from a trio of nerdy minimalist art-rockers, into the full blown, punk-funk aggregation they became around the early-1980s time of Remain In Light (arguably their most fertile creative period). The evolution of frontman David Byrne as a live performer is particularly fascinating to watch. In early performance clips from CBGBs and The Kitchen, Byrne looks so painfully stiff, you may ask yourself “how the hell did he get here?” (to quote one of his most famous lyrics).
By the time of a 1979 appearance on ABC’s “American Bandstand,” Byrne is so visibly uncomfortable during a ”Take Me To The River” post performance interview, Dick Clark finally asks bassist Tina Weymouth if he is always so introverted. “He’s organically shy,” she replies.
Byrne, of course, eventually evolved into a much more engaging and confident performer, a transformation we begin to see take shape here on a 1980 live clip of “Animals” from Germany. Here, Byrne seems to finally find his stage legs by discovering how to turn his natural awkwardness to his advantage. “20 years of dance lessons, and now you see the result,” Byrne quips, before going into some of those odd and quirky stage moves he later became so famous for.
On an early clip of “Psycho Killer” from CBGBs, what you hear is the sound of a band that is still very rough around the edges. But you can also hear the same great song that Seymour Stein did — prompting the legendary A&R man to sign the band to Sire Records. With the addition of keyboardist Jerry Harrison, the trio of Byrne, Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz, begins to develop more confidence as musicians and performers, as seen here in a performance of “Don’t Worry About The Government” from the British music show, “Old Grey Whistle Test.” You also start to see the foundations of the funk rhythms that would later become so crucial to the Talking Heads sound in later years beginning to form here.
But what really makes Chronology a must for Talking Heads fans, is the latter-period stuff. The expanded Remain In Light lineup — including guitarist Adrian Belew, bassist Busta “Cherry” Jones, and keyboardist Bernie Worrell — turn in an absolutely incendiary version of “Crosseyed And Painless” from Passiac, New Jersey’s Capitol Theatre on this DVD. The combination of Belew’s fiery guitar, the deep funk pocket of Jones and Weymouth on bass — and let’s not forget those tight-ass P-Funk grooves — proves to be an explosive one. Even though this performance is shot in black and white, you have to wonder just how much more of this stuff might be lying around somewhere.
Extras on this DVD include a 1978 David Byrne interview, and something called the “South Bank Show,” which is essentially a film combining band interviews with Talking Heads music.