Ivonne Catrejon Miller
This Must Be the Band honor David Byrne with live music and unusual tailoring.
Talking Heads were one of the most interesting bands to come out of the late-1970s post-punk scene. Combining a New Wave sensibility with influences as diverse as funk, Americana and world music, their catalog still stands out even though they broke up in 1991. And images of frontman David Byrne in the oversized white suit he wore in the concert film Stop Making Sense remain iconic.
Byrne and bandmates Tina Weymouth, Chris Franz and Jerry Harrison have reunited only once, when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Bad blood will probably keep them from getting back together again. This means a generation of Talking Heads fans has been unable to experience the slinky grooves of hits like "Life During Wartime" in a concert setting.
This Must Be the Band and Houses in Motion, two bands who exclusively play Talking Heads material, provide one solution. The former are a national touring group headquartered in Chicago. With members in both Madison and Chicago, the latter tend to play Wisconsin venues. This Must Be the Band visit the Majestic Theatre on Nov. 16, and Houses in Motion play the High Noon Saloon on Dec. 14.
While neither band claims to be the second coming of Talking Heads, they do try to channel the group's charisma while playing covers of their songs.
This Must Be the Band approach their shows like many DJs do, choosing songs in response to the crowd's energy level.
"I'm somewhat allergic to set lists because I don't know what the crowd's going to feel like until I'm on the stage feeling it out," says frontman Charles Otto.
The band encourage the crowd to shout out song requests.
"We normally can get to every request in a three-hour show," Otto says. "Sometimes we do specific recordings -- like we have performed Remain in Light and Speaking in Tongues note for note. We re-create Stop Making Sense once a year, and for that, it's note for note and big suit for big suit."
Andy Fitzpatrick, a sometime member of the Bon Iver side project Volcano Choir and a full-time member of Madison experimentalists All Tiny Creatures, considers Houses in Motion a side project of his own. The group started 11 years ago as a way to keep making music with longtime friends when they started their careers. They already knew a few Heads songs, so they put together a whole set of the band's music.
"Originally, we were doing our best to figure out how to play what we were hearing on the recordings," Fitzpatrick says. "I'm sure we've subconsciously put our own spin on the songs over the years, but overall, we try to stay true to the spirit of the songs."
Houses in Motion stay within their favorite sections of the Talking Heads catalog, while This Must Be the Band tackle almost all of it.
"We don't play any songs from after 1983; we stop at Speaking in Tongues," Fitzpatrick says. "We generally play earlier stuff in the first set and later stuff in the second set. Sometimes we have an additional percussionist and an extra singer or two join us during the second set."
Otto's introduction to Talking Heads was an accident. He discovered the band's music on Limewire because "Burning Down the House" was mislabeled as a Widespread Panic song.
"I was hooked," he says.
This Must Be the Band initially got together for only one show, but they kept getting requests to play more. Now it's a full-time job for several of the 25 musicians who've played with the group over the past six years.
This Must Be the Band have noticed that different parts of the country favor different sections of the Talking Heads catalog. Like the members of Houses in Motion, a lot of Madison fans seem to adore early Heads songs.
"On average, Stop Making Sense songs make fans go wild, but in several towns, they really relish the early stuff, or some towns really like the late stuff," Otto says. "In the South, they like True Stories."
Madison audiences are also pretty vocal about which Talking Heads songs they're crazy about.
"'Psycho Killer' and 'Burning Down the House' seem to generate the biggest frenzies," Fitzpatrick says.