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History Blog

Posted: March 29, 2018

David Byrne & Talking Heads: It’s Back To The 1980s at Forest Hills Stadium

Composed by: Michael Perlman, Forest Hills, NY
David Byrne, lead singer of Talking Heads wearing his iconic 'big suit' at Forest Hills Stadium, August 19, 1983, Copyrighted photo by Eileen Colton

David Byrne, lead singer of Talking Heads wearing his iconic ‘big suit’ at Forest Hills Stadium, August 19, 1983, Copyrighted photo by Eileen Colton

Throughout Forest Hills Stadium’s history, there is a selection of unique artists who make a comeback to our iconic stadium. One is David Byrne, founder, lead vocalist, guitarist, and composer of Talking Heads, an American New Wave/punk band which originated in New York City in 1975 and remained active until 1991. Talking Heads also consisted of husband and wife duo Chris Frantz on drums and Tina Weymouth on bass, as well as Jerry Harrison on keyboards and guitar.

Byrne is the recipient of an Oscar and a Grammy for his soundtrack to “The Last Emperor” film in 1988, and Talking Heads was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

Talking Heads first appeared at Forest Hills Stadium on Saturday, August 21, 1982 at 8 PM and concertgoers could purchase a ticket that ranged from $12.50 to $17.50. Then on Friday, August 19 and Sunday, August 21, 1983 at 8 PM, Talking Heads rocked the stadium stage for another season, where tickets were available at $15 in advance or at $17.50 on the day of the show.

August 19, 1983 Talking Heads at Forest Hills Stadium concert ticket, Courtesy of Michael Perlman

Thirty-five years later, it will be history-in-the-making on September 15, 2018, as WFUV and Madison House Presents offer the opportunity for David Byrne to appear with Tune-Yards, an art pop, indie pop, lo-fi, worldbeat band founded by Merrill Garbus of New England. Byrne will perform new music from his eleventh solo album, “American Utopia,” which was released on March 9th, and audience members will soon find out if he will perform Talking Heads classics and his memorable solo tunes.

Talking Heads ad, August 1982, Courtesy of David Marin

Talking Heads ad, August 1982, Courtesy of David Marin

On August 21, 1982, three numbers from Byrne’s “The Catherine Wheel” album was a fine complement to the selection of songs recorded by Talking Heads collaboratively. In addition, Jerry Harrison took the lead on a tune from “The Red and the Black,” his solo album.

In June 2017, Rolling Stone published “The 50 Greatest Concerts of the Last 50 Years,” and Talking Heads’ “Speaking in Tongues” / “Stop Making Sense” tour, the two-night engagement in August 1983 was featured. Byrne was thought of as somewhat nervous and struggling to dance in his huge white suit, so his dance routine was considered odd. He recalled, “I had to find my own way of moving that wasn’t a white rock guy trying to imitate black people, or bring some other kind of received visual or choreographic language into pop music… I just thought, ‘No, no, you have to invent it from scratch.’” Byrne and drummer Chris Frantz reminisced the 1983 Forest Hills Stadium concerts as a memorable time. Frantz said, “Madonna had just released her first record; she was walking around barefoot. I saw Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall off to the side of the stage; she was dancing, Mick wasn’t.”

The sold-out show of August 19, 1983 is remembered as a two and a half hour engagement on a hot and humid summer night. Distinguishable characteristics of Byrne were his black hair, dark staring eyes, unique dance moves, and his signature oversized white suit. Five additional musicians joined Talking Heads, consisting of an additional keyboardist, a percussionist, guitarist, and two female singers and dancers, which felt like an ensemble. Byrne made a solo entrance on stage, carried a boom box, and began singing the Talking Heads’ earliest underground number, “Psycho Killer.” With each number, the stage progressively became a setting for musicians, and as part of the encore, Byrne sang “Burning Down the House,” their first top ten hit. The stage was then filled with dancers and percussionists among band members.

Among the seventeen performance numbers were also “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel,” “Slippery People,” “Life During Wartime,” This Must Be the Place,” “Once in a Lifetime,” and the Al Green cover, “Take Me to the River.” The second half of the program was noted for its word and slide projections and tricky lighting effects. Two days later, the August 21st concert featured two sets totaling 23 numbers.

Talking Heads ad, August 1983, Courtesy of David Marin

Talking Heads ad, August 1983, Courtesy of David Marin

Concertgoers shared vivid accounts of what earned the 1983 concerts a place in history. David Colton attended the August 19, 1983 show with his wife, Eileen Colton, a well-recognized rock ‘n’ roll, early punk, blues, and reggae concert photographer, who photographed Byrne wearing his iconic “big suit.”

David Colton recalled Forest Hills Stadium in the context of other venues of the day. “It was the friendliest of concert venues, a secret musical oasis in an era of seedy Manhattan clubs, gummy movie theaters, and cavernous shows at Madison Square Garden or Nassau Coliseum. Forest Hills was small and suburban, surrounded by trees and the friendly ghosts of tennis history.” Nevertheless, Forest Hills Stadium offered a magnitude force.

He said, “Talking Heads was the opposite of tree-lined streets and hushed tennis courts. They were urban and art-school ironic, and like the best of minimalists such as the Ramones and Patti Smith and the B-52’s, the Talking Heads were joyously funny.”

They attended Talking Heads engagements on several occasions. He reminisced, “It was always in urban settings such as CBGBs, small theaters, or odd Manhattan performance spaces, and usually with a knowing collection of fans, but in 1983, MTV had propelled Talking Heads into a new era of pop and visual storytelling.” They found it delightful to secure a parking space within a few blocks from the stadium, and had uncertain expectations for the evening.

He explained, “To experience the claustrophobic Talking Heads in the open air was strange within itself, but to see Byrne open the show with a tape recorder-driven ‘Psycho Killer’ in the heart of the Queens discos that ‘Son of Sam’ had terrorized just a few years before, was daring and transgressive performance art at its best.”

He found the stadium as the ideal setting for a new iteration of Talking Heads. “Under the stars with a big open stage and a Brazilian-infused underbeat, the Talking Heads were magical and important that night, and when Byrne emerged in the ‘big suit’ near the end, the group’s fusion of relentless rhythm and cutting intellect made for one of the most memorable concerts of their unforgettable run.”

Now David Colton and his wife are anticipating the stadium’s upcoming concert season. He said, “Byrne’s solo career has remained brilliant and essential, even with his long absences from the public eye. A return to Forest Hills shows how important that Talking Heads show 35 years ago was for the group and their legacy.”

Donna Donna, air personality of “Long Island’s Only Classic Rock” radio station, 102.3 WBAB, also had a treasure trove of memories to share. “I’ll never forget the balmy night in 1983 when the Talking Heads electrified the crowd,” she said, prior to calling the fusion of performers, songs, choreography, rhythm, and energy “absolutely hypnotic.” “The performance was exhilarating and the music was so rhythmic, that no one could stay seated,” she continued.

DJ Donna Donna with David Byrne, Talking Heads, Courtesy of DJ Donna Donna

DJ Donna Donna with David Byrne, Talking Heads, Courtesy of DJ Donna Donna

Donna Donna can relive the energy of the moment Byrne took the stage, which heightened throughout. She reminisced, “Byrne alone with the acoustic guitar and a boom box was striking and powerful, but as each member joined the power grew.  Finally, when the backup singers appeared and the ‘auxiliary’ musicians including Bernie Worrell of Parliament-Funkadelic fame were added, the full ensemble was assembled, and the power engulfed the stadium like a cyclone that sweeps up everything in its path.”

Donna Donna considers it fortunate that the tour was captured for posterity in Jonathan Demme’s critically-acclaimed concert film, which also bears the title, “Stop Making Sense.”

She explained, “It’s telling that although the Talking Heads released three more albums after 1983’s ‘Speaking in Tongues,’ the band never toured again. It was as if Byrne knew that the ‘Stop Making Sense’ tour would be impossible to top. That’s why it is particularly exciting that after all these years Byrne will return to Forest Hills Stadium with another big band, as in 12 pieces, for a choreographed ‘untethered’ concert that he has called ‘the most ambitious show I’ve done since the ones that were filmed for ‘Stop Making Sense.’”

“Rock shows can often feel disposable and of the moment, but occasionally there’s a show that is clearly something special, which stays with you long afterward,” said Donna Donna.

The 1983 season proved to be a step forward in tying the knot for Talking Heads fans David Marin and his wife Marsha Marin of Westchester County, New York. He recalled, “My future wife and I had our first real date at the stadium on August 19, 1983 for the Talking Heads on their ‘Stop Making Sense’ stage show tour. We worked together, and this was our first time going out to a show. We both lived nearby, so there was something to be said for the convenience. I was living in the Walden Terrace in Rego Park, and my wife lived in one of the alphabetical streets in Forest Hills.”

Ticketron ticket stub for Talking Heads at Forest Hills Stadium in 1983, Courtesy of Michael Perlman

Ticketron ticket stub for Talking Heads at Forest Hills Stadium in 1983, Courtesy of Michael Perlman

Concertgoer, novelist, essayist, and poet Stephanie Gangi finds it a challenge to separate the Forest Hills concert from the 1984 film “Stop Making Sense, since she is not only a Talking Heads fan, but a Jonathan Demme fan. She said, “The director perfectly captured the feeling of being at the show, since I felt surrounded by like minds, bodies in rhythm, and the inimitable Talking Heads wall of sound.”

Gangi attended the concert with her date. She explained, “I remember it being a communal experience with smart people listening to smart music beyond the radio hits, but even the hits were brainy, extended, and exploratory. It was highly visual and big-seeming. This was music making art, and I could ‘see’ the music, in a way, and of course that was focused by the ‘big suit.’”

Her interpretation was not only that of a suit, but one that “glowed” and “shimmied.” She continued, “It was like a marionette with David pulling the suit’s strings. It was a sophisticated cartoon; maybe an image that pre-dated graphic novel art. It felt like all the tensions of our lives were shaking through David and the suit. Working the suit with the music was performance art I could actually enjoy.”

Gangi recalled the band members enjoying their spot on stage, and especially Tina. “It felt as if they understood that they were in their element and moment, and at their peak.”

She interpreted “Burning Down the House” as if the song went on forever. “It was like a crazy ride with hills, turns, and rest stops.” She continued to reminisce, but in a way the concert seemed timeless. “I remember ‘Girlfriend Is Better,’ since I was in love with my date who turned out to be the love of my life, but is gone now. For ‘I Zimbra,’ the whole joint was up on their seats, dancing. The Talking Heads hold up for me in ways other bands do not, and the music seems the way it was on that night; fresh, exploratory, and smart.”

Talking Heads during the Stop Making Sense Tour, Courtesy of Long Island Weekly

Talking Heads during the Stop Making Sense Tour, Courtesy of Long Island Weekly