Waiting For A Message Of Some Kind Or Another

In 1981 David Byrne and Brian Eno released an album which they’d been working on since 1979. It still sounds remarkably fresh today, even if some of its key features and devices have become pop culture cliche- ranting evangelical preachers and TV announcers. I remember buying My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts in the late 80s and finding it bewitching and startling then and on Side A as funky and rhythmic a record as any contemporary ones. Eno and Byrne relied on some happy accidents, syncing up found voices with tape loops, dropping in rhythm tracks recorded using boxes and plastic containers as drums, recording people off the radio, but they also had some serious, heavy duty rhythm sections at their disposal too, Chris Frantz, Prairie Prince, Bill Laswell and Busta Jones. The opener was/is this one, a song that explodes out of the traps, bursts of bass and guitar and loops, ominous and tense but definitely capable of causing some shapes to be thrown.

America Is Waiting

Byrne was into the idea of the songs having vocals but not having to write any lyrics. As a vocalist he found he was expected to express himself through the words to a song. What he says he often found was that the music and the lyric triggered the emotion in him rather than the other way around. Using sampled and recorded voices (and this was pre- sample clearing days, which held up the release of Bush of Ghosts), voices where the speaker was already expressing high emotion such as preachers, in a different context, dropping them into music they’d already recorded, took the original voice and vocal elsewhere. This became standard, the sampling of voices and using them in dance records, but it’s pretty forward thinking here.

Side B is less voice focused and more moody, ambient and less based around rhythms to make the listener move. In 2008 a re issued CD version came with seven extra tracks. The running order and track selection of My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts changed several times during its conception and according to Byrne’s liner notes any of the extras could have made the final release if they hadn’t been constrained by the limitations of vinyl’s running time. This one starts with a burst of noise, silence and then a fade in, percussion, a repeated bass riff, a distorted noise, chimes and what could be a cuckoo clock. Short but intriguing. I wonder if the title refers to the then balance of power within Talking Heads and their producer (Eno and Byrne versus Weymouth, Frantz and Harrison).

Two Against Three

I Guess I Must Be Having Fun

David Byrne played at The Apollo on Monday night and it was quite a night. Byrne had promised in advance that this tour was ambitious and it definitely did things differently in terms of staging and presentation. The stage was completely bare of any of the standard rock ‘n’ roll equipment- no amps, no drum riser or drum kit. As we took our seats all that was on the stage was a metal legged table and a chair under a single spotlight. At 8.45 he appeared, singing Here to a rubber brain. Dressed in a grey suit and shirt and barefoot, grown out white hair, he looks every inch the intellectual and artist. But things heat up very quickly after this arty intro. My friend, DJ, who got me the ticket, saw the show in Birmingham the night before and said that the crowd remained mostly seated throughout until the encore. From the moment the band hit the opening notes of the second song, his 2002 hit with X-Press 2 Lazy, the Manchester crowd is on its feet and dances until the end.
The band are all, in Byrne’s words, ‘untethered’. All dressed identically, grey suits and shirts and barefoot, the eleven players are free to move around. The guitar and bass have no leads, the keyboard player has his keys in front of him on a harness, again no leads, there are two hardworking backing vocalists/dancers and anywhere up to six drummers, standing up samba-style playing a variety of drums and percussion instruments. The show is highly choreographed. No backdrop or projections except for a silver metallic curtain and at one point a light as a TV set but the lights change the shape of the stage. Lit from low down hge shadows engulf the back wall during one song, genuinely exciting to look at. At times the eleven band members stand in a line, at times they move in circles or file in and out, some walking forwards as others move back. Lots of this seems to be a visual nod to Stop Making Sense. At the close of one song the lights go out and when they come up again the band are all lying down. On another they all stand on the right hand side and then stagger to the left, as if at sea in rough weather. All of this is very clever and very stylised and could run the risk of being too theatrical were it not for the playing and the songs. At no point do I wish they’d drop the artifice and just play the songs. The songs, the dancing, the show- all add up to something hugely imaginative.
Lazy is bright and breezy, full of bounce, and followed by I, Zimbra, monumentally funky and African influenced. They follow that with Slippery People. At this point I’m pretty much in David Byrne gig heaven- his voice is strong, his dancing energetic (and at times wonderfully in sync with his backing dancers) and the band are playing fully realised versions of the Talking Heads songs you want played at a gig. He throws in songs from other projects he’s had along the way, one from the album he did with St. Vincent and one from his record with Fatboy Slim and a few from solo records (Like Humans Do). The songs from the current album American Utopia slip in seamlessly, less arch in concert than on disc. Anyone else who had written something as influential and massive as Once In A Lifetime would play it as an encore. David Byrne plays it at about the half way point, a single spotlight following his jerky dancing along the lip of the stage. It’s all astonishing stuff- loud, clear, full of energy and the band and David are clearly enjoying the songs as much as we are. The set closes with two Talking Heads songs, first a blistering version of 1988’s Blind, a song I hadn’t expected and have loved since the day it came out, and then a red hot dance through Burning Down The House, the stage drenched in red light. To top this the first encore gives up The Great Curve (to join Remain In Light’s Born Under Punches, played earlier), groundbreaking funk in 1981 and still ahead of the curve now. The group then stand in a line and play a cover of Janelle Monae’s Hell You Talmbout, minimal drumbeat and chanting voices- essentially a list of black men killed by white Americans. The tour is sold out. David is bringing the show back in December, to arenas. My advice, if you want to see someone doing something other people don’t or can’t and doing it as well as you can imagine, is to get a ticket. The heat goes on, as he reminds us forcefully in Born Under Punches, the heat goes on.

Facts Just Twist The Truth Around

Looks like Jerry missed the message about wearing red for the photo shoot.

Songs to raise the spirits and raise the roof after a week/year of shite and disappointment- Crosseyed And Painless (The Heat Goes On). In 1980 Talking Heads were the funkiest post-punk group on the planet, expanding to include new people in the studio and soon a killer line up of live musicians, with with Brian Eno continuing on production. David Byrne’s control freakery had almost driven Tina and Chris out but they stuck together to make their last truly great album, Remain In Light. This is the opener and sets the tone for what is to come.

Byrne has said that the album was ‘spiritual’ and ‘joyous and ecstatic and yet it’s serious’ The groove on this song is something else, rhythms for dancing and losing yourself. The vocal parts call and respond like uptight gospel. And the lyrics defy explanation. ‘Lost my shape, trying to act casual’ he starts out. The phrase ‘I’m still waiting’ comes and goes and then towards the end he starts to list what facts can and can’t do. And as we all know, we are now in a post-fact world.

‘Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don’t do what I want them to
Facts just twist the truth around
Facts are living turned inside out
Facts are getting the best of them
Facts are nothing on the face of things
Facts don’t stain the furniture
Facts go out and slam the door
Facts are written all over your face
Facts continue to change their shape
I’m still waiting… ‘

America Is Waiting For A Message Of Some Sort Or Another

I remember clearly the first time I heard David Byrne and Brian Eno’s 1981 album My Life In the Bush of Ghosts. This would be circa 1988 so it probably didn’t have the same shock impact it may have had on listeners in 1981- sampling voices from the TV and radio was all over the place in the late 80s, as were drum machines and tracks constructed from loops and treated instruments. But it still made my head spin. America Is Waiting isn’t necessarily the best song on Bush Of Ghosts but it seems the most relevant today. Snatches of ranted vocals (‘we ought to be mad at the government not made at the people’, ‘no will whatsoever, absolutely no integrity’), distorted funky guitar from Byrne and a clattering rhythm track.

Born Under Punches

An extra post for Saturday. David Byrne is sixty four today. Sixty four! This performance by the expanded version of Talking Heads in Rome in 1980 is astonishing. ‘Fuckin’ nuts…next level shit!’ as one Youtube commenter has it.

Eno Returning

Brrrr- it’s chilly out. How about some Brian Eno to start the week? In fact, how about an hour long mix of Brian Eno, originally put together by the Test Pressing website back in 2010, no longer available at their website as far as I can tell.

The Producers 2 Brian Eno

Many of the tracks selected here have that late 70s and early 80s sound rather than the ambient soundscapes he’s as well known for. Strange syncopated rhythms, treated guitars, African influences, multitracked vocals, funk bass, oblique strategies.

Tracklist…
Brian Eno: Sky Saw
Brian Eno: No One Receiving
Brian Eno: Strong Flashes Of Light
Brian Eno: More Volts
Talking Heads: Double Groove (Demo)
Brian Eno: The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch
David Bowie/Brian Eno: Abdulmajid
Brian Eno & David Byrne: Into The Spirit Womb
Brian Eno: St Elmo’s Fire
Brian Eno & Harold Budd: The Plateaux Of Mirror
Eno Mobius Roedelius: Foreign Affairs
Brian Eno: In Dark Trees
Brian Eno: Mist/Rhythm
Brian Eno: By This River
Brian Eno: Just Another Day
Brian Eno: Bone Bomb
Brian Eno: The True Wheel

This Must Be The Place

If you click here there’s a nice re-edit of This Must Be The Place by Talking Heads, done by Patrice Baumel. It won’t embed but at the moment it’s a free download. It’s not that different from the original but it’s all stretched out bit, those keys and picked guitars playing off against each other for a few extra minutes at the start and finish. David Byrne’s usual lyrical obsessions with paranoia, anxiety, dislocation, wiredness and weirdness were replaced on this song for some actual warmth. Good for jigging about too.

Actually, there’s a potentially very good 80s re-edit mixtape in this- the New Order one I posted last week, that stunning re-edit of The Jesus And Mary Chain’s Nine Million Rainy Days, the looped reworking of Wah!’s The Story of the Blues and Siouxsie’s Peek-a-Boo for starters. Someone should stick them all together in one seamless mix.