Stop Making Sense


For most bands, when it comes to a version of their stage show being filmed, it’s usually nothing more than merchandise for the fans. For US band Talking heads however, they took it a little more seriously when it came to the filming of their Stop Making Sense tour in 1983.

They had a vision of what they wanted, and apparently it was going to cost them just over $1 million to have it. This was to include the services of a then up-and-coming film director Jonathan Demme, who would go on to direct such films as Philadelphia and Silence of the Lambs. They were so passionate about their vision however, that they raised the funds themselves, and the result is considered one of the greatest ever filmed concerts of all time.

boom reviews Stop Making Sense
And as you can see Doc, I can't put them down now.

It begins stripped back, with the audience seeing a bare stage, as well as its back, bare wall, with no curtains or sign of any production design. And then a figure walks on stage, lead singer David Byrne, who presses play on a boom box, and plays along with his guitar to the first track ‘Psycho Killer’.

It’s then that the show takes an almost modular approach, as with each new song, Byrne is joined on stage by another member of the band, and various instruments. This continues until the whole ensemble is now on stage, and the show has evolved into the full blown band experience that you would expect.

boom reviews Stop Making Sense
I'm just a fire starter, a twisted fire starter...

Although it looks as if it was shot in one night, it was actually shot over three nights, as Demme continued to capture the kinetic energy from every member of the band, which is clearly visible. It feels like lightning in a bottle, but it’s obviously the same level the band give, like most bands do, night after night. It’s that sensation that every audience member wants to feel, regardless of what night or venue they attend, that they witnessed something special, and Demme’s remarkable film does just that.

You don’t even need to be a fan of the band to recognise the wonder of the occasion, although of course it helps. The band have some top tunes however, which they obviously perform with added gusto, with the only noticeable absence being the hit ‘Road to Nowhere’, which Byrne wrote a year after the film’s release in 1984. Their side project the Tom Tom Club also get a look in, performing their hit ‘Genius of Love’.

And although he comes across in interviews as a rather quiet and humble character, Byrne transforms on stage giving his performance a real theatrical edge throughout, with even his oversized suit getting an airing, making him the consummate front man.

Although albums tend to age better than filmed concerts, Stop Making Sense still remains a classic and one that all bands and their filmed shows still all aspire to. It’s no wonder that the Library of Congress selected it to be added to their prestigious National Film Registry, for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

It’s fair to say that the collaboration between Demme, Byrne and the rest of the band resulted in something special, in what has to be the gold standard for a filmed concert. And although it appears a seemingly basic premise, it’s evident that there’s some alchemy at play because the result is magical. So much so that it’s something that other bands have clearly not been able to replicate. And considering the concert is now forty years old, that’s some going.

Even though the concert can officially be classed as vintage, there’s still something fresh about it, made more so by the film being remastered for its re-release, helping it remain the classic timeless gig it is.

we give this four out of five