Very few bands actually mean it when they break up. Usually, it’s only a matter of time before old wounds heal enough to take the stage again for the inevitable, profitable reunion tour. Talking Heads are the exception. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band last toured behind their 1983 release Speaking In Tongues and finally disbanded in 1991. Their lone reunion was a brief 3-song set at their 2002 Hall of Fame Induction. While David Byrne resurrected the classic song for his American Utopia Broadway show in 2018, fellow Heads Jerry Harrison, Chris Frantz, and Tina Weymouth remained relatively quiet when it came to the music of their legendary band. Harrison had not been on the road in decades but has now teamed up with former Talking Heads associate and guitar virtuoso Adrian Belew for a tour celebrating the 40th anniversary of Remain in Light and the entire Talking Heads catalog.
The night opened with a nearly one-hour set by Cool Cool Cool, a seven-piece, horn-drenched funk band formed from the ashes of Turkuaz. The band put on a high-energy set, highlighted by 3 vocalists and a collection of fun songs that got the general admission audience dancing in their spots. The seven-member band was joined by bassist Julie Slick, best known for playing with Belew’s power trio. As their set came to an end, the band announced that they would return as the backing band for Harrison and Belew.
After a short break, Harrison & Belew took the stage, accompanied by Cool Cool Cool, Julie Slick, and percussionist Yahuba Garcia-Torres. The band started big with the iconic “Psycho Killer” with Belew on vocals. It certainly set the tone for the night with a fun, upbeat, uplifting version that got the capacity crowd moving (yes, dancing is certainly a theme of the night).
While the tour was a celebration of Remain In Light, only 5 of the album’s 8 tracks were featured (“Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)”, “Crosseyed and Painless”, “The Great Curve”, “Once In A Lifetime”, and “Houses In Motion”). The rest of the 14-song set saw a mix of deep cuts (“Drugs”, “Cities”, “I Zimbra”) and massive hits (“Life During Wartime” and “Take Me To The River”). Vocals were mainly shared by Harrison and Belew, but members of Cool Cool Cool also took lead on some tracks.
The Harrison and Belew vocals felt natural and were perfect for the song. While female vocalists Shira Elias and Sammi Garett fit seamlessly into their songs, Josh Schwartz felt forced on his. David Byrne has such a quirky, distinctive style so it’s a tall order to perform his songs without coming off like someone trying to do a Byrne impression. While Harrison and Belew merged their personal styles with Byrne’s, Schwartz came off more like he was impersonating Byrne, not a bad impersonation by any means, but it seemed sort of like a tribute band.
There wasn’t a lot of interaction with the crowd, but it was clear that the musicians were having a great time on stage. Belew rarely stopped smiling, and while Harrison usually had a more serious look, his body language and playing (switching between guitar and keyboards) left no doubt about how much it meant to him to be back on stage with his friend playing these songs. At one point, Belew left the stage and Harrison launched into a triumphant version of his solo hit “Rev It Up” from 1988’s Casual Gods. The band also did a great version of the Speaking In Tounges track “Slippery People” during Belew’s absence. Harrison then took a break himself while Belew led the band into King Crimson’s “Thela Hun Ginjeet” from 1981’s Discipline, a record Belew recorded on the heels of Remain In Light so the song fits perfectly into the set.
The lower level of the theater was general admission standing. At first, I thought that was a little odd as I was expecting an older audience. As I walked through the venue I noticed that there were as many people in their 20s and 30s as over 50, and every one of them was dancing to every song. When you look at the tremendous success of American Utopia and the unqualified success of this tour, it’s clear that the demand is there to hear these classic songs. Former Talking Heads bandmates and Connecticut residents, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth were in attendance but, alas, didn’t join Harrison and Belew on stage. One can only hope the three former bandmates and Belew felt the love from the crowd for their work and would consider a tour together.