There may be a concert film that is better than Stop Making Sense, but I haven’t seen it, and I’ve seen a lot of them. This performance of “Heaven” is a perfect example of why. Sure, I could focus on the fantastic opening performance of “Psycho Killer” with its sweet intersection of live performance and pre-recorded beat on the boombox, but that seems almost too obvious (though that beat wasn’t really emerging from the radio—it was just a prop standing in for the Roland TR-808 drum machine).
This performance on the other hand underscores how the unfolding introduction of various members of the band and their instruments is simultaneously demystifying and mystifying. On the surface it is just David Byrne and Tina Weymouth—the first two members of the band to perform, but why is the woman providing the backing vocal not present on stage? Her voice is ghostly, haunting, church-like. I think her invisibility works for the performance giving it an echo of grief’s untrammeled distances, but that voice also suggests that while the rolling out of equipment and staggered appearance of members of Talking Heads, their backing musicians and the road crew, may seem to be undermining the staged artifice of the concert experience, they are really a part of it.
“Heaven” is a downtempo song also helps build the sense of anticipation in its restraint, precipitating a tension that can be heard when the audience starts cheering when the drumstand is rolled out, eager for the return of that backing beat. Similarly, despite the tempo of the song, notice how Tina Weymouth is grooving. She is bopping along as she plays a bassline that is bursting at the edges of the song’s maudlin sense of longing, at odds with the death required to reach the unimaginable laconic experience of heaven the song describes.
For another incredible performance from later in the concert film check out my personal favorite, “Life During Wartime.”