Archive for August, 2014

ten in one

audio one pt 1

audio one, part one: tim daisy, jason adasiewicz, mars williams, ken vandermark and nick mazzarella.

Listen to the mixture of groove, invention and chaos that erupts throughout two new recordings by Audio One and you might surmise this jazz collective favors music of the moment.

But the twist with this mammoth 10 member troupe is that the spark igniting the immediacy of its music today was first summoned for largely the same purpose by an entirely different jazz generation. It is to that jazz past – specifically, one led by the early ‘70s players from Chicago’s AACM (the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) and the St. Louis-based Black Artists Group – that Audio One founder and saxophonist Ken Vandermark looked to for his band’s newest sounds.

“I’ve been interested in composers who came out of the Midwest, especially those associated with the AACM and the Black Artists Group just as I’ve been really interested in writing music for larger groups of improvisers,” Vandermark said. “So I thought, ‘Okay, what I could do is maybe get a large group of people together and I could write arrangements of pieces by some of those great composers – namely, Julius Hemphill, Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill.”

Enter the first of Audio One’s new records, The Midwest School, named after the blanket term given to Hemphill and his contemporaries. While their compositions make up the recording, Vandermark has set them to arrangements for a significantly larger band.

“If I was in a combo, I would think, ‘Why touch this music? What am I going to add to it?’ But with a 10 piece group, I could change the color and the trajectory of the piece.

“So when doing arrangements of other people’s work, I’m always focused on pieces I find extremely interesting and provocative for the content that’s in them. But I also try to look at them as objects that can be deconstructed, rethought and reinterpreted by a totally different group of improvisers. If the piece provides that kind of stimulus, then it’s really exciting to do it. Otherwise, the music should be left alone. There is no point in doing a piece just to do a piece. It needs to be a new interpretation or a new viewpoint.”

Audio One is, in essence, a new generation Midwest School. Its players are members of a fruitful Chicago indie jazz and improvisational music community of which Vandermark has long been an especially visible and prolific leader. That scene has also been steadily sending artists to Lexington venues as part of the Outside the Spotlight series. Over the past 12 years, seven of Audio One’s 10 members have led or co-led concerts here.

That leads us to the band’s second new album, An International Report. Recorded during the same winter concerts as The Midwest School, this set is devoted to Vandermark’s original compositions.

“I work with music that’s challenging,” Vandermark said. “But the preconception a lot of people have about that is, ‘Oh man, it’s going to be really difficult.’ They become disinterested or intimidated before they even hear the stuff. I think this period in the ‘70s based in the Midwest that I’m so interested about… these are a bunch of composers that utilized everything they wanted to if it created something interesting in the improvising.

“The clashes and contrasts within their music, often in the same piece, completely fascinate me, so I use that methodology in my own work. I’m always trying to express that when I talk to people – that if you get in the room, you’re going to have a real experience. And it’s not going to be like a lecture or didactic sermon. It’s going to be, ‘Let’s find out what we’re going to discover with the music tonight.’”

Audio One performs at 8 tonight at Embrace Church, 1015 N. Limestone. Admission is $5. Call (859) 257-4636 or go to

mountain climbing

town mountain

bobby britt, phil barker, robert greer and jesse langlais of town mountain at natasha’s in june. herald-leader staff photo by rich copley.

Sometimes you can’t help but notice the growth of an enterprise.

Take for instance, the rapidly expanding visibility and acceptance of Town Mountain, the tirelessly rustic bluegrass troupe out of Asheville, North Carolina that has come to think of Lexington as something of a performance home away from home. Sporting a sound rooted in string band tradition but with a fearsome instrumental drive that makes its music anything but a museum piece, the band has watched its audiences grow younger, larger and more feverishly enthusiastic.

Vocalist, guitarist and frontman Robert Greer got an inkling of Town Mountain’s mounting appeal two years ago when the quintet conquered the mighty bluegrass task of selling out a Seattle club on a Tuesday night.

“That was the first time I really noticed where things were going,” Greer said. “That’s really becoming more and more the way for us and I think that’s just due to us sticking around. I have great confidence in our band, in our songwriting and in our presentation. But a big part of it is hanging around, being persistent and not worrying about what’s going on around us.

“So, yeah, growth is a trend that is happening for us. And we’re welcoming it.”

Such growth has been on vivid display in Lexington over the past 18 months. Town

Mountain introduced itself through several intimate shows at Willie’s Locally Known, a pair of well-received sets at the 2013 Festival of the Bluegrass and a trio of sold out performances at Natasha’s culminating with a Best of Bluegrass kickoff in June with Lonesome River Band. Town Mountain’s Thursday return brings it to Cosmic Charlie’s for the first time.

The change in performance venues is quite purposeful. Despite being a club known primarily for showcasing indie rock acts, Cosmic Charlie’s wasn’t simply a larger hall for Town Mountain to play, it was a move away from the sit-down atmosphere of previous performances into a setting that encouraged dancing, audience involvement and a bit more volume.

“We all feel like the band is more in its element whenever we’re able to let it all hang out and create more of a dancing quality environment,” Greer said. “I think a lot of our music lends itself to that. That’s why we’re stoked to play Cosmic Charlie’s because we’re going to plug in and be able to get above the crowd noise a lot better than a place where we’re playing strictly into the microphones.”

Also marking this latest growth spurt for Town Mountain was the Tuesday release of the band’s first concert recording, Live at the Isis. Admittedly, much of the unvarnished excitement generated on the 10-song set comes from the band playing on home turf in Asheville. But the music also speaks to the performance direction Greer referred to. Mandolinist Phil Barker’s Lawdog sounds like White Lightning-era George Jones with an Appalachian makeover, Greer’s Up the Ladder could pass for Jerry Lee Lewis on a bluegrass bender and the ferocious instrumental Tarheel Boys taps directly into the speed, agility and drive that fuels Town Mountain’s overall sound.

“All of this music just evolves,” Greer said. “We bring a brand new take when we start playing it out live, so it evolves naturally. The more times we play a song, the more we figure out something that works dynamically. Then we’re going to work that into the music, too. It’s cool. Tarheel Boys in particular, sounds really good on the live record. It’s a high energy number.”

It also reflects a sound increasingly rare in a bluegrass world that often favors the spit-and-polish of modern country songwriting over the raw fervor of roots driven string music.

“Well, that’s good for us, I guess, because we’re going to continue doing what we do.”

Town Mountain performs at 10 tonight at Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. Admission is $12. Call (859) 309-9499 or go to

going with the flo


flo and eddie of the turtles: mark volman and howard kaylan.

Few California bands of any critical or commercial worth remained as devoted to pop tradition through the latter half of the ‘60s as The Turtles.

Sure, psychedelia and hippie-dom abounded at the time. A certain degree even filtered into their music, from the golden lyricism of Eleonore (cq), She’s My Girl, You Baby and You Showed Me to the transformation of Bob Dylan’s folkish kiss-off anthem It Ain’t Me Babe into a blast of radio-friendly rock ‘n’ roll that introduced the world to The Turtles in 1965.

But at the heart of it all was an expertly crafted pop sound that crested – in terms of performance, arrangement and composition – on the 1967 hit Happy Together, a song that continues to define the journey of The Turtles today.

“I think you’re making it sound like we knew what we were doing,” said Mark Volman, who with fellow co-founding Turtle Howad Kaylan utilize Happy Together as the namesake tune for a tour that unites a pack of like-minded ‘60s and ‘70s acts into an annual summer concert tour. One of the trek’s stops every August is the Kentucky State Fair.

“We really had no idea we were creating a kind-of iconic sound and groove. We really were flying by the seat of our pants, sort of speak. There was so much luck involved in the fact that we were experimenting on almost every record we made. We didn’t really set out to be music stars because there really wasn’t any music business when we started out. We were just happy to be able to meet girls in high school with our band.”

While the Happy Together Tour focuses strictly the duo’s music with The Turtles, the rock ‘n’ roll careers of Volman and Kaylan developed remarkable reach. For two storied years following the Turtles’ 1970 breakup, the singers joined what is perhaps the most outrageous lineup of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention.

Where The Turtles were wholesome family fun, the Mothers were a progressive minded rock enterprise disguised as an out of bounds frat party. Adopting the stage names of Phlorescent Leech (Flo) and Eddie that they still use today, Volman and Kaylan fronted a Zappa lineup responsible the notorious Fillmore East June 1971 album and the experimental film project 200 Motels.

“I’ve noticed after Frank’s death that either this was considered either one of the fans’ favorite times of the Mothers or one of the worst,” Volman said. “I’ve seen reviews that just hated the period we were with him. They said it was sophomoric, that there was too much improvisation onstage, that there was not a wealth of great instrumental music, that it was just a bunch of stupid humor and jokes – kind of like being on the radio with Howard Stern.

“Frank didn’t stop to consider if people were going to like it. That was always Frank’s thing. It was, ‘If you don’t like this, who cares? We’re going to do another project six months from now or six weeks from now.’ He didn’t read reviews. We would make records and then move on to the next project and just continue working and creating.”

In the post Zappa years, the duo now known as Flo and Eddie, would sing on records by John Lennon, Alice Cooper, Blondie, The Ramones, Duran Duran and many other sessions, including some that yielded two landmark rock hits – T. Rex’s Bang a Gong (Get It On) and Bruce Springsteen’s Hungry Heart.

But when summer rolls around, the clock turns back, and Flo and Eddie become The Turtles again, bringing an era of seeming pop innocence to the present day.

“If there was one thing we learned with Frank, it was to continue doing what we do,” Volman said. “People who are going to like it will like it. That’s why this tour is fun. It’s really simple – just hit songs. There are no deep tracks, no B-sides and no stress.”

The Turtles featuring Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (Flo and Eddie) perform Aug.21 as part of the Happy Together Tour at Cardinal Stadium in Louisville as part of the Kentucky State Fair. The performance is free with fair admission ($6 children and seniors, $10 adults, $8 parking). Call (502) 367-5000 or go to

in performance: ross hammond

ross hammond 2

ross hammond.

It wasn’t so much a tour gig as a homecoming. In fact, a sizable portion of the audience on hand last night for Ross Hammond’s Outside the Spotlight solo guitar concert at Mecca consisted of friends and family, including his grandparents, father and 4 year old daughter.

But as informal and intimate as the 70 minute set was, what Hammond performed was a stylistically far reaching program that was expansive even by jazz terms. But given the music was performed without amplification on 6 and 12 string guitars with a mix of finger and flatpicking styles, the evening’s dominate sounds were rooted in compositional folk-blues traditions more than jazz

In its finest moments, the performance embraced all of that. The Creator Has a Master Plan transformed the meditative groove saxophonist Pharoah Sanders wrapped the tune’s original version in with slide driven accents on 12 string that made the resulting music fall in line with the wiry rural folk adventures of John Fahey.

From another plain altogether came the familiar hymn I’ll Fly Away, a staple of bluegrass and pre-bluegrass country repertoires that Hammond established with a rugged, punctuated rhythm before the tune’s melody line rang out with a decidedly Eastern air.

Then on the original Womuts!, elements seemingly borrowed from British folk tradition – especially, the pre-Pentangle records of John Renbourn and Bert Jansch – bookended slower, American-rooted passages on 12 string.

All three tunes, which will be featured on Hammond’s forthcoming solo guitar album Flight, might seem far afield from the standard practice of a jazz player. Likewise, an unaccompanied guitar concert favoring compositionally based works over openly improvisational music might seem an abrupt rerouting for an OTS show. To that thinking, Hammond offered two dramatically reworked excerpts from his Humanity Suite album, a sextet project encompassing swing, classical and free jazz elements. Last night, that music became a stark folk reflection on 6 string that highlighted spotless tone within a quiet but beautifully pensive folk framework.

The audience members seemed especially appreciative of the whole mix, but none so much as daughter Lola, who casually walked up and awarded her father with a hug late into the set. Now that’s what you call a rave review.

elton at the pops

michael cavanaugh

michael cavanaugh.

Most any pop-savvy pianist will happily admit their reverence of the music Elton John has created over the past 45 years. Count Michael Cavanaugh among them.

“I’m a huge fan of Elton,” said the pianist and vocalist who will be the guest artist at this weekend’s Picnic with the Pops performances. “I’m also a huge fan of Bernie Taupin, his lyricist. The stuff they wrote was just so unique. Most of their songs, especially the ones from (John’s 1973 multi-platinum album) Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, they wrote and recorded in one day. That just blows my mind. They were all living in this mansion of a house that was turned into a big recording studio. So they’d get up in the morning, write a song, record it and that was it. That’s how songs like Bennie and the Jets and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road happened. That’s just crazy.”

Many of the songs John wrote with Taupin during the first half of the ‘70s also sport keen orchestral arrangements by Paul Buckmaster and, on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Del Newman. That makes such music a fine fit for orchestral concerts such as the Picnic with the Pops performances with the Lexington Philharmonic. But Cavanaugh isn’t limiting his touring tribute, The Songs of Elton John and More, which makes up the program for Picnic for the Pops, solely to the vanguard British rocker’s orchestral works.

“We open the show with (the 1975 single) Philadelphia Freedom because it’s got this great orchestral purpose already,” Cavanaugh said. “So obviously songs like that, songs like Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, songs like (John’s breakthrough 1970 hit) Your Song have these beautiful orchestral and string arrangements that we love playing. But then we also love doing songs like Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, which has never seen an orchestra before but sounds really cool with one. And there’s Candle in the Wind. So many people got used to hearing just the piano/vocal version of that song. I do it with piano, voice and strings and it really sounds beautiful.”

Curiously, John wasn’t Cavanaugh’s first or most formative piano-pop inspiration. That honor goes to Billy Joel. After catching a Las Vegas performance by Cavanaugh in 2001, Joel chose his devotee to be the lead for Movin’ Out, his Broadway bound collaboration with famed choreographer Twyla Tharp. Cavanaugh remained with the production for three years, earning Grammy and Tony Award nominations.

Actual orchestral concerts, though, didn’t begin for Cavanaugh until after Movin’ Out closed. That was when he designed large scale touring tributes to Joel, John and a newer singer-songwriter program (the “… and More” qualifier in the title to this weekend’s John tribute calls for additional ‘70s-era songs by Wings, Styx and the Eagles).

“When I was on Broadway, I worked with a 10 piece rock band. It was a rock ‘n’ roll band with a horn section, basically. The first time I ever played with an actual orchestra onstage was at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops. I guess I got spoiled.

“Growing up as an ‘80s kid, I was surrounded by synthesizers that were trying to mimic these orchestras but couldn’t do it. So suddenly to be surrounded by a real orchestra was incredible. It was like taking cotton out of my ears.

“What’s beautiful about these concerts now is we’ve got these guys coming from the rock ‘n’ roll world and symphonic musicians coming from the classical world. We’ve learned over the last eight years of doing this how to play with an orchestra and work effectively with a conductor. The more you do that, the more you feel these two different worlds coming together. There’s nothing like it.”

Picnic with the Pops: The Songs of Elton John and More featuring the Lexington Philharmonic and Michael Cavanaugh performs at 8:30 p.m. Aug. 15 and 16 at The Meadow at Greene Barn, Keeneland, 4201 Versailles Rd. Tickets are $15-$300. Call (859) 233-3535, (800) 745-3000 or go to

hometown guitar

ross hammond

ross hammond.

Traveling is usually just an accepted routine within the life of a working musician. That’s certainly been the case for guitarist Ross Hammond.

Though born in Lexington, he has spent all of his professional life in Sacramento, Calif. establishing a voice of his own for the jazz guitar and, more importantly, an audience to accept and appreciate it. While the West Coast has afforded him numerous performance situations, including a commission from Sacramento’s Croker Art Museum that yielded an outstanding live recording and a favorable write-up in the jazz magazine Downbeat, furthering his guitar voice inevitably meant hitting the road.

“I go to the East Coast every six months or so and just try to have a presence,” Hammond said. “I just turned 37, so if there is a time to do this, to travel and pay your dues in a national sense, I think it’s kind of now or never. I’m just trying to grow the circle a little bit more every year. That’s the idea, so I’m trying to do whatever possible to get out.

“I think that’s helped in terms of visibility, too. Maybe people might go, ‘Oh, here’s this dude from California. What’s he got going on?’”

This weekend, though, Hammond travels to Kentucky for personal as well as professional reasons. The trip was initially designed merely as a visit to see his father. But when Ross Compton, chieftain of the Outside the Spotlight series got wind the guitarist was heading to Lexington, he arranged for a performance tonight at the Mecca dance studio on Manchester.

The concert will be unplugged in the truest sense of the term as Hammond will perform without a band and minus amplification of any kind.

“It’s totally stripped down,” Hammond said. “You can’t get any more stripped down than this.”

Somewhat coincidentally, the performance ties into Hammond’s newest recording project, a collection of solo guitar pieces scheduled for release over the winter.

“I had the idea to do this recording of how the music would sound around the house when you’re playing an acoustic. It’s mostly.original, but there are also some hymns. What I recorded was a lot of 12 string, 6 string and resonator/slide guitar music. I’ll just be playing 6 and 12 string when I’m in Lexington. People will just have to sit in close at the show, but that should work out pretty good.”

The upcoming solo record differs considerably from Hammond’s most recently issued recording, Humanity Suite. That album is a live document of the piece commissioned by the Crocker and was recorded at the museum.

Humanity Suite was designed around a 2013 Crocker exhibit of works by visual artist Kara Walker, known for using paper silhouettes to reflect scenes of racism, violence and slavery. Walker’s Crocker exhibit combined dark silhouetted images with photos of the Civil War that first appeared in Harper’s magazine. Hammond’s music is a blend of neo-classical accents, subtle groove and open improvisation.

“The Crocker asked me to play opening night of the exhibit,” Hammond said. “So I thought if we’re going to do this big show, I want to write new music specifically for the event. Then they commissioned the piece. I was able to get Catherine Sikora, who is a really wonderful tenor saxophonist in New York, and Vinny Golia, who is a great (saxophonist) in Los Angeles. I was able to bring them out and play with a lot of the guys in Sacramento and we just made this sextet.

“The music wasn’t really like, “This song goes to that piece.’ It was more like, ‘If all these silhouettes were made into a film, what would the film sound like?’ That’s how I went about it.

“The recording was a little bit of a risk, too. There are just two giant tracks. But people seem to dig it.”

Ross Hammond performs at 7 p.m. Aug. 15 at Mecca, 948 Manchester St. Admission is $5. Call (859) 254-9790.


crtic’s pick 334: eric johnson, “europe live”

Eric-Johnson-Europe-Live-300x300Eric Johnson has long been something of a musical amalgamation. Within his guitar playing, you hear the deft picking that a Nashville classicist like Chet Atkins might give a nod to, the kind of thunderous drive that brings to mind the more fusion friendly records of Jeff Beck and suggestions of blues spirits like Stevie Ray Vaughan that emanate from the same Texas base of operations as Johnson – namely, Austin.

Still, slip on Europe Live, a true sleeper of a summer concert recording, and you will discover he doesn’t really sound like anything of those giants. Instead, Johnson is as inconspicuous as he is inventive. He has long shown zero interest in the hyped-up profile of the modern day guitarslinger. Instead, Johnson remains the master of his own universe, an expanse where he can play with the fluidity of a country vet, the precision of a fusion pro and the passion of a bluesman. Now, squeeze out the ego pinned to each of those personas and add together what’s left. What you have the comprehensive drive bolstering Johnson’s playing. And on Europe Live, that playing has never sounded finer.

Witness, for instance, Zenland and its brief prelude Intro. The muscle of the medley blasts off with a crackling riff that sounds like Mark Knopfler in full Money for Nothing mode. But the tune quickly tightens around a searing guitar line likely boosted by pedal effects. It’s a bold, rockish run Johnson establishes with the lean rhythm section of drummer Wayne Salzmann and bassist Chris Maresh riding shotgun. But you also don’t appreciate how a clean a player Johnson is until he pulls back and assumes the role of rhythm player with a few efficient jabs that emphasize a surprising lightness to the trio. Such are the dynamics that make Europe Live a delight.

Some of the tunes are fairly recent, like the brief but beefy instrumental Fatdaddy, a romp that recalls Beck’s unrelenting fusion records despite the music’s initially country-esque tone. It’s a serving of great trio cunning that plays at full throttle with maximum efficiency. In under three minutes, the whole wild ride is complete.

Other works, like the Grammy winning Cliffs of Dover, are nearly 25 years old. But the way the tune coalesces out of spiraling guitar lines into a roadhouse groove sounds positively ageless.

The album’s lone excess is a fairly pedestrian drum solo from Saltzman that derails the otherwise engaging electric swing behind John Coltrane’s Mr. P.C. Outside of that, Europe Live is an unassuming summer treat – a live album by a guitarist that has long prided himself on being a studio perfectionist. Then again, the liberating feel one senses in Johnson’s playing is just a single highpoint from one of the year’s most complete and robust guitar rock adventures.

in performance: dawn landes


dawn landes.

Dawn Landes had to realize just how closely last night’s opening night audience at the inaugural Well Crafted Festival was following her performance. When she introduced a tune (the pensive Bodyguard) by saying, “This is a little song about a robbery,” a crowd patron, without skipping a beat, replied, “Were you involved?”

Granted, the folk/Americana accent of her songs and the often wistfully confessional nature of her lyrics are very audience-friendly attributes. Adding to that last night, though, was the performance setting. The Louisville-born, Brooklyn-based songstress was the last of four acts to perform in Meadow View Barn at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Mercer County.

In other words, the show was set in the most inviting and remote part of an already inviting and remote festival site. An atypically cool midsummer evening didn’t hurt either, but the barn setting provided an informal, intimate atmosphere for Landes’ music – especially tunes from her fine 2014 album, Bluebird.

Backed by a trio of Lexington pros dubbed the Kentucky Gentlemen – guitarist/pedal steel player Tom Hnatow, bassist Blake Cox and drummer Robby Cosenza – Landes delivered a 50 minute set that worked its way from songs of studious reflection, revelation and despondency to a finale of rockish celebration highlighted by a jacked up cover of Tom Petty’s Southern Accents.

The Bluebird tunes fell into the former class. Tryin’ to Make a Fire Burn Again, the best of the new selections, used Hnatow’s pedal steel accents as subtle embellishment to the uneasy grace of Landes’ singing, which recalled the subtle but dark emotive cast of Natalie Merchant’s early solo records.

Heel Toe turned such a sound on its side by setting the music to a jagged, neo-waltz melody. Pull such intensity back into a more traditional country context and you had the repressed emotive drive of Oh Brother which escaped in beguiling, mantra like choruses. And for pure country fun, there was a sisterly cover of Dolly Parton’s Longer Than Always with Lexington’s own Coralee, whose preceding set with her longstanding Townies band worked a emotively similar but stylistically different country soul vibe that sounded equally sweet at this barn party.

critic’s pick 333: crosby, stills, nash & young: ‘csny 1974’

CSNY74When Crosby, Stills and Nash began their second set at the Louisville Palace last spring, Graham Nash remarked that there once was a time the group would devote intermissions to tanking up on whatever chemical stimulant was at their disposal. Today, he said, the singers spend concert breaks texting their grandchildren.

Well, on a lavish new archival set called CSNY 1974, we are ushered back to “once was a time” – specifically, to when a summer tour by the trio augmented by sometimes co-hort Neil Young was the year’s biggest concert attraction. But being a rock success story in the ‘70s meant a lifestyle beset with indulgence. Add in the acrimony that seemed to flow in and out of the foursome at the time, and you had a party that was often on the verge of burning to the ground. A proposed studio album, rumored to be so complete that a cover shot had even be taken, was scrapped and the copious amount of concert tapes many had hoped would surface s as a live album were indefinitely shelved.

Four decades to the month later we have CSNY 1974, a fascinating and flawed chronicle of the lost summer when Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young let the biggest folk-rock franchise of its day go down in flames.

Nash oversaw the restoration, so from a sonic standpoint the whole set – available as a single disc sampler and a comprehensive multi-disc CD/DVD/Blu Ray package – sounds like a dream, especially during the acoustic performances that make up the second disc of the larger edition. And, frankly, from a performance standpoint, things sound remarkably more vital than history has let us believe. Stephen Stills sounds pretty uncontained vocally throughout, however. He largely slurs, wails and moans his way through many tunes, especially the lovely Change Partners. Similarly, the group’s usually stately harmonies often possess a ragged, barroom quality.

But there is a lot to relish here. David Crosby, for all of his fabled excesses, sings like a bird with clear, effortless expression on chestnuts like Guinnevere and The Lee Shore and while conjuring the electric fire of Déjà Vu.

To perhaps no one’s surprise, though, the show stealer is Young. CSNY 1974 is loaded with seldom performed gems, especially from his landmark On the Beach album that would be released just after the tour’s conclusion. From the social rant of Revolution Blues (“I won’t attack you but I won’t back you”) to the coarse childhood remembrance Don’t De Denied (from 1973’s criminally out-of-print Times Fades Away) to the comparatively gentle sway of the unreleased Hawaiian Sunrise (the rumored title tune to the aborted CSNY studio record), Young sounds frightful and exact as he kicks a hearty dose of sand into the face of the boozy summer joyride that is CSNY 1974.

making sense of talking heads


tales from the big suit: david byrne in ‘stop making sense.’

Above all its theatrical design and positively enchanted music, there is a performance aesthetic at work in Jonathan Demme’s remarkable Talking Heads concert documentary Stop Making Sense that is as inviting and as it vital.

If you had to pin down one single instance – one single frame, even – that captures such intent, it would be when head Head David Byrne, dancing like a child unbound in his famed Big Suit during Girlfriend is Better, hoists his microphone momentarily to the camera filming him as if to invite the audience to sing. It’s an astounding moment in a film filled with them.

Amazingly, Stop Making Sense has turned 30 with digital re-release that is making the rounds of movie houses this summer in much the same way Talking Heads might be had the band not split at the dawn of the ‘90s. It plays twice on Aug. 6 as part of the Kentucky Theatre’s Summer Classics series. What a fitting homecoming. Not only did the film play there upon it release in 1984, but Talking Heads performed in Lexington in May 1983 at the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum. It was the only regional stop of the tour Stop Making Sense was built around.

stop_making_sense_posterDemme’s film was a practice in simplicity. It presents an unbroken stage performance minus the gratuitous crowd shots, interviews and backstage nonsense. Then again, who needed frills when you had Byrne as your focal point? Throughout the film, he operates as a wiry stick figure of frontman who bends and dances like a rubber band and sings like an artist (and, at times, like a child) thoroughly consumed by the music around him.

Admittedly, much of the film’s fascination deals with Byrne’s performance design as his actual performance. It opens with the singer alone onstage belting out the misanthropic Psycho Killer before instruments and musicians are added with each successive song until Talking Heads stands as a nine-member post-punk funk army. The unit’s single-mindedness comes through during a version of the radio hit Life During Wartime, transformed here into calisthenics workout with half of the Heads running in place for much of the song.

But Demme is right on his target here, too. One of the film’s most arresting shots occurs during the thick funk of Swamp where the camera slowly pans across the front of the stage to catch Byrne s he pops into view like a jack-in-the-box.

Sadly, Stop Making Sense was also the beginning of the end for Talking Heads. The band never toured again after 1983. After three more studio records, it quietly dissolved. But what Demme and Byrne leave behind in this film isn’t just an ensemble snapshot or a chronicle of its time. This is instead a living portrait of performance joy and invention in fascinating motion. And that makes outstanding sense.

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