The Subject of This Article is Talking Heads

'The Name of This Band is Talking Heads'
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Sire Records

How would you explain Talking Heads as a live act to someone who hasn't seen them - and given the fact that they've been apart some 35 years, likely never will? It's a question with a multiple-choice answer, but in 1982, the group offered a pretty comprehensive "all of the above": their first live album, The Name of This Band is Talking Heads.

Released during a hiatus after a rigorous release of four albums and several tours in as many years, The Name of This Band is Talking Heads was, for a time, overshadowed by the group's other live release, the acclaimed album and concert film Stop Making Sense. But where Stop Making Sense was a snapshot, The Name of This Band is a photo album, tracing the group's evolution over four sides of vinyl.

The first disc zeroes in on the core of the band as they were first heard: the nucleus of David Byrne on vocals and guitar, Jerry Harrison on guitar and keyboards, and the rhythm section of bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz. Here, audiences experience them as taut, frenetic art-rockers from two intimate gigs: one a Boston radio performance in 1978, another at New Jersey's late, great Capitol Theater from a year later. Their deliveries of songs like "Psycho Killer," "Memories Can't Wait" and "New Feeling" are just what you want out of an early, live Talking Heads set: edgy and unmissable.

READ MORE: Talking Heads' 'Stop Making Sense' Preserved by Library of Congress

From there, the lens widens out into the group's brilliant, manic work of the early '80s. To capture the expanded, world music-influenced styles they were embracing on records like Remain in Light and Fear of Music, Talking Heads metamorphosed into a sprawling 10-person touring collective, adding ex-King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew, Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell and a troupe of vocalists. This dazzling era was on display with The Name of This Band's second disc, taken from multiple shows from New York's Central Park to Tokyo. Embracing staples like "Life During Wartime," "Houses in Motion" and a simmering cover of Al Green's "Take Me to the River" - and avoiding the band's most recognizable song of the era, "Once in a Lifetime" - these sides show off the power of their dramatic transition. ("Five years and not a misstep--think maybe they're gunning for world's greatest rock and roll band?" eminent critic Robert Christgau asked when the album was released.)

READ MORE: Same As It Ever Was? Talking Heads' Top Tracks

The influence and mystique of The Name of This Band is Talking Heads only grew over the years, thanks in part to the fact that the album never made the jump from vinyl to CD in the '80s. That record was finally corrected in 2002, when the album was issued on disc as a greatly expanded 2CD set, deepening both eras of the group across each disc with more than a dozen unreleased tracks. "In many ways, it's the best one-stop document of what made Talking Heads one of the post-punk era's most dynamic and urgent bands, and a succinct argument for the merits of synthesizing rock with emerging, potentially oppositional sounds," Pitchfork wrote in an adulatory review. "The latter is a lesson that will hopefully be learned by today's rock artists."

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