Saturday, October 11, 2008

Everything that Happens Happened in Slippery People

I remember when this photo was taken. Something funny had happened in the audience, and Byrne seemed to really enjoy it. Then again, from the way he talks about the dancers on his tour, it’s clear that his threshold for enjoyment is kind of low. lt’s like, all that meditation and worldliness he’s known for has made him so unjudgmental that he can hardly tell what’s stage worthy. Which is a shame, since for the most part, in the old Stop Making Sense deal, everyone seems pretty much on top of his/her game. Rhythms are tight there and that sharp bass guitar often seems to be leading the whole thing. You can’t go flopping around like a marionette tennis player. But that’s what his dancers, some of which are in the picture, looked like on this tour.

Their backs were hunched as if they were suspended by a string from between their shoulder blades, with other strings mostly slack. Their chests were sort of caved in. A lot of what they did was to run in place, or run fake football plays, dodging around Byrne. They got really sweaty, but it was hardly worth it. It was as if some ADF student, deluded that he had a choreographic vision worthy of other people’s attention, had gotten a couple of other students together to give a performance at 11pm in a practice room, and forced his friends to come watch.

I can only justify Byrne’s keeping these “professional” dancers on stage as representing the geek dancing that, I suppose, his fans have done all their lives to the “white people’s funk” sound of the Talking Heads. Byrne himself has practically built his stage presence out of his own geek dancing. But proliferated out from his body into those others, the geek dancing lost its soul.

Even the backup singers danced a little, and they were even worse. And as backup singers, they were just okay. The very last song in the last encore, the title song of the album Everything that Happens Happens Today, had intonation problems in its final notes. I had to leave the auditorium with that on my mind.

The audience, for its part, also danced the whole time. Audience dancing was not so inspired for the first part of the concert, which was the newer stuff, seeming to be trying to be melodic and deep, mature and middle-aged. My man could sing it pretty well, don’t get me wrong. He’s got a pretty rich, commanding voice as pop singers go. But I can’t listen to words in songs. I just don’t discern them. So whether they actually are deep or not I don’t know. And to me, the melodies were not memorable, and the percussion was merely going through the motions. Svetx had said Byrne has a tremendous Brasilain percussionist, and he was there, but it could have been anyone. Asheville is full of drummers. Byrne would have done just as well with one of them. Where was the distinctiveness of the Talking Heads?

Whenever I hear Talking Heads, I want to hear Slippery People. The live version more than the original recording. It has a great cruising groove which I used to love to blast all over an aluminum warehouse building where I once worked, flicking lights on and off and loading trucks and checking of items on lists. And it has virtually no melody, but it works great with its focus on rhythm and bass. And those old Talking Heads lyrics were kind of cryptic and kitchy and maybe philosophical, but were saved from being taken too seriously by the overall quirky presentation.

After the amorphous Byrne/Eno collaborations there did come a song with the old Talking Heads aspects: true funkiness in the percussion and bass, rhythmic chanting from Byrne and the backup singers, call and response. Byrne is trying to be all worldly and do world music nowadays, but I say he and the Talking Heads were doing world music before world music knew of itself, and it was pretty good.

Now the audience clicked into its groove, and Thomas Wolfe Auditorium was truly rocked. It was like all these old Talking Heads fans, Svetx included, had been doing body rolls all their lives in front of MTV. I happened to look behind me and saw a couple of rows of people, the last in the standing room behind the rearmost seats, stepping and writhing to one side and then the other, singing all the words too. It was like a synchronized choppy sea around me, and this was the most impressive thing of the concert.

They did the “This ain’t no disco” song, and on the chorus the backup singers did and Byrne did harmonize pretty well with each other. They did the “Same as it ever was" song and “Take Me To the River.” I always like river songs. I heard “Down By the Riverside” in a jazz club in Prague once. It was played by a wonderful Dixieland jazz band that seemed to have a regular gig at that club, and when they got to “Riverside,” the whole audience shouted the words along with them, in English. Svetx and I also heard a great “Wade in the Water” played as accompaniment to the Alvin Ailey dance company’s Revelations recently in NYC. That was slammin’.

Leaving the Thomas Wolfe auditorium, folks around us were complaining that we had not heard "Burning Down the House." They felt like I had after Duran Duran this summer, when they had not played "Please Please Tell Me Now," the scheisters. And I felt gypped because I didn’t think I had heard "Slippery."

It has been 10 years since I worked in that warehouse and last heard it. Just now, before writing this, I went online to see if I would still like it. Yep, the live version is still pretty rockin’. I like the percussion less, maybe because I’ve listened to so much Latin music lately; but I like the bass guitar more. And playing it on YouTube, I think I recognize it as the Talking Heads song they did in the Asheville concert that first got the audience truly down with its bad self. So yes, I think I did hear "Slippery People," and I think it was pretty much the best song of that night.

1 comment:

Glenn said...

I saw TH in Austin on the tour that was filmed for "Stop Making Sense." The big suit, the boombox, the floorlamp. It was all there, awesomely awesome. The movie did a great job of capturing it.