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"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno

Uncut JANUARY 2012 - by Damien Love

TALKING HEADS: CHRONOLOGY

Excellent, lovingly assembled live compilation, spanning the art-rockers' career from nervy soup to funk nuts.

"David Byrne, all neurasthenic nettles pointing inward. He looked like someone who'd just OD'd on Dramadine - all cold sweat clammy and nerve net exoskeleton... like some nut just holidayed from the ward with a fresh pocket of Thorazine, that's all. There was something gentle, shy, reflective and giving about his hideous old psychosocial gangrene."

That's Lester Bangs, recalling the first time he saw Talking Heads live, in a rambling, sometimes flashing essay written in 1979 as a review of the Fear Of Music album, but only published now as an accompaniment to this superbly conceived DVD.

In fact, given Talking Heads' particular concern for objects, the things we surround ourselves with, and are surrounded by buildings, food, electric guitars, lampstands, paper - it's worth mentioning the packaging. The DVD case itself is a little hardback book (the feel brings on instant sense-memories of Ladybirds), with Bangs' piece spilling across twenty pages or so, illustrated with photographs, facsimiles of old flyers, and the original hands-cribbled lyrics to Psycho Killer, Life During Wartime, and Heaven. Simply put, even before you remove the DVD, it's a nice thing.

When you play the disc, it just gets better. Chronology is an aptly name d collection, gathering up snapshot fragments of live footage to create a collage-portrait of the band that works on a couple of levels. Taken individually, each performance is an exquisite time-capsule of the version of Talking Heads that existed at a certain moment: in 1975, say, captured on black-and-white videotape, when they were still an unsmiling, drivingly awkward anti-rock trio, huddling close on the surprisingly clean stage at CBGB's, looking and sounding like the herky-jerky children of Anthony Perkins and The Modern Lovers (of this period, in the accompanying commentary, Tina Weymouth recalls Dictators singer Handsome Dick Manitoba asking: "What are ya, a buncha lesbians?").

Taken as a whole, meanwhile, these seventeen performance clips, spanning 1975-83, when Talking Heads did their Beatles thing and stopped touring, offer a summary of the unlikely evolution the group went through: mutating from a compact, wire-thin, (nerve-) jangling and very white NYC art-rock combo, to that world-roaming, weird-dancing rhythm monster of the early-'80s, when Fear Of Music and Remain In Light delivered odd, ominous, fractured news you couldn't quite understand but couldn't stop moving to, laying challenges for pop that were never really picked up.

Chronology does a valuable job in unearthing Talking Heads as a ceaselessly brilliant live band. This might seem an odd thing to say, when one of their most famous artefacts, Stop Making Sense, is a contender for best concert film of all time. But that was a carefully designed, directed and edited movie, and by its release, the band had given up playing live, disappearing from view behind the famous videos of the Little Creatures era. The performances here, drawn from early fan recordings and TV shows like The Old Grey Whistle Test and Saturday Night Live, have little flash. No big suits or stop-motion. Just the facts, drenched in sweat: how tight the original trio were; how Weymouth and Frantz found it impossible to do anything but the right thing at the right moment; how chopped and vicious Byrne's guitar was back then; how insanely correct the original 1980 "big-band" Talking Heads sounded when Adrian Belew's noise was added to the mix. The disc ends with a flash-forward to grey hair and 2002, when the group got back together to play for their induction to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame - as close to a reunion we're ever likely to see.

If there's one quibble, it's that the clips leave you hungry to see the full performances they were culled from. Complete recordings certainly exist - different songs from some of these same concerts were previously used as the DVD extras on the 2006 album remasters; meanwhile, bootlegs videos are in circulation. But that's beside the point. Chronology does what it sets out to do beautifully, and then some, psychosocial gangrene and all.

EXTRAS: All four Heads assemble for a worthwhile commentary. There's also a 1978 interview with Byrne. Best of all, though, is the 1979 South Bank Show special, an excellent, impressionistic cut-up profile worth the price of admission in itself.


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