Jerry Harrison & Adrian Belew | Vic Theatre | 2/25
It's The Return Of The Son Of The 1980-81 Remain In Light Tour featuring two guys who were on that tour!
Which bands are going to survive another decade of pop culture? Is anyone born this year ever going to care about, say, The Kinks? In twenty years, will anyone have heard of Little River Band? How long does the music of Talking Heads have before it blends into a faceless wallpaper of ‘80s dance pop? It’s already had its Broadway treatment in David Byrne’s AMERICAN UTOPIA, and chances of an actual reunion of the band seem slimmer with each passing year, particularly now that Heads guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison has put together this band with singer/guitarist Adrian Belew, who had joined the Heads for their REMAIN IN LIGHT tour in 1980-81, thus contributing to some of the greatest concerts ever put on by humans.
Over 40 years later the songs remain vital; that much was never in doubt. When Belew walked onto the Vic stage Saturday night in sparkling red shoes and bright pants to match, I knew he probably still had it in him to light up a room all on his own. The only time I’d seen him perform before was fronting King Crimson back in 2000. It had been too long. When he started singing the “Psycho Killer” opener I suddenly realized there was probably nobody on Earth better suited to sub in for Byrne in this capacity. That was about all I needed to know it would be a good night.
The tour is named after the aforementioned REMAIN IN LIGHT, although the band is playing only the first five songs from that album, subbing out the lesser-known tracks for bigger Heads hits and a couple of relative deep cuts. It was perhaps telling that only one song, “Slippery People”, from Heads’ post-RIL catalog made the cut for this tour, as Byrne’s increasing dominance of the band’s direction after that tour led not just to an increasingly poppy sound but an end to touring altogether.
If you’ve watched, for instance, the celebrated footage of the Heads’ 1980 concert in Rome ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyjlp6nLH5o ), you know not to get your hopes up TOO high for this 2023 tour. These young exuberant Heads were on a high they couldn’t hope to achieve nowadays, yet the infectious energy of Belew and Harrison’s calm, gracious presence had people even in the balcony at the Vic dancing, an especially impressive feat given the age spread of this crowd. The announced backing band for this tour was Cool Cool Cool, aka seven of the nine members of Turkuaz who effectively ended that band in 2021 by announcing their collective departure from it. However, I didn’t catch a proper band intro (nor the opening set by Cool Cool Cool whoops) so I can’t confirm every member of the ensemble. I can say that bassist Julie Slick, not affiliated with Cool Cool Cool as far as I know, anchored the band in superb fashion and I’m annoyed that I wasn’t familiar with her work before, considering she’s worked with several of my favorite musicians of all time in the jam/prog superrealm (Les Claypool, Robert Fripp, Jon Anderson, Stewart Copeland, Ann Wilson, etc.)!
It was a pure joy to see and hear Belew rip guitar solos like only he can and think about how between Frank Zappa and David Bowie and Crimson and Talking Heads he was this bizarre commonality at the forefront of an evolving front of improvisational and theatrical music from about 1977-83, none of which will likely be forgotten. It was a thrill to experience all of these Heads songs given a full uptempo treatment (while I typically enjoy Phish’s covers of this band, they’re always too slow). Don’t be dismayed when Belew leaves the stage to allow Jerry a moment in the spotlight (for “Slippery People” and his own new-ish solo tune “Rev It Up”); Adrian will be right back to deliver a rousing “Thela Hun Ginjeet” of his own, which is a highlight of any concert it appears in no matter who’s onstage.
I’d have to stop short of saying this is a powerhouse ensemble delivering a must-hear overall experience. It’s a tribute band by nature and has that unmistakable feel to it, a ‘celebration of’ rather than an evolving creative endeavor. Then again, the tour is just getting going, and after wrapping up in March, the group will be back in action starting in May. They’ll cover a lot of U.S. geography, and when the they link up with Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade in June, you can bet there’ll be some entertaining collaborations afoot at those shows. I think it’ll work even better outdoors. I’m not sure it tops the first time I experienced the dance party in the Oriental Theater for a screening of STOP MAKING SENSE, but I still say any time you have a chance to get together with a bunch of other humans and dance to Talking Heads songs, you should probably do it.