The Coolest Thing You’ll See All Week: Talking Heads Smoke “Life During Wartime”

by Steve Spohn
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TalkingHeads1980RomeFeaturedSheer musical bliss – plain and simple: the Talking Heads performing “Life During Wartime” in Rome. The year is 1980 and the band is at the height of its powers, blazing across Europe.

In preparation for their Remain in Light tour, the band beefed up the “Afro-funk orchestra” to nine members, including guitar god Adrian Belew (a year before he began fronting a new version of King Crimson); P-Funk wizard, Bernie Worrell, on keyboards; percussionist Steven Scales of Ashford & Simpson fame; and backing vocalist Dolette MacDonald.

That expanded format produced a layered, intricately textured “new wave” sound – one that burned with funked-up primal abandon.

The show in Rome on December 17, 1980, was oversold, nearly triggering a riot during the opening act, The Selecter. The temperature was high inside the Palazzo dello Sport with the heated Italian crowd fueling the band’s scorching performance.

The lyrics of “Life During Wartime,” written by frontman David Byrne, reveal clandestine revolutionary forces afoot in major cities across the United States (Houston, Detroit and Pittsburgh are all mentioned by name) during a dark time of civil unrest. The cloak-and-dagger feel of the song adds mystique and heft as it explodes out of the gate.

Heard of a van that’s loaded with weapons
Packed up and ready to go
Heard of some grave sites, out by the highway
A place where nobody knows

TalkingHeadRemainInLightByrne delivers the now-iconic line “this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco” to an ecstatic audience in this powerful, almost manic, performance of one of the band’s most memorable songs.

Tina Weymouth’s bass playing is melodic yet relentless in its urgency while Steven Scales adds surging tribal energy from the congas. And guitarist Adrian Belew shows the chops that made him a legend.

All that said, this could be the coolest thing you’ve seen all week. At any rate, it will surely get you fired up for the weekend. This ain’t no foolin’ around!

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