Jerry Harrison performs at Rams Head Live on March 4, 2023. (Photos by Jason Nicholson; Words by Mickey McCarter)
Were the Talking Heads a jam band?
Certainly, if you looked at them only from the start with “Psycho Killer” in 1977, you would be inclined to say no. But three years later, the band had changed significantly. Partly due to the input of keyboardist and guitarist Jerry Harrison, the band grew its sound significantly. Harrison and the rest of the band embraced a funkier, looser sound for their fantastic fourth studio album, Remain in Light.
Five of that groundbreaking record’s eight tracks were the stars of Jerry Harrison’s Talking Heads celebration, a show he’s taken on the road with guitarist Adrian Belew, who also played on the tracks and toured with the Talking Heads back in the day. Their recent sold-out show at Rams Head Live! in Baltimore burned down the house.
I loved the Talking Heads, and the band rank among my all-time favorite musicians. And I personally was amazed that Jerry and Adrian developed this concept and took it on the road, as the Talking Heads originals are unlikely ever to reunite. The Talking Heads last performed live in 1984, and the band was so widely inventive in part in response to internal tensions that it’s difficult to imagine how the live act would have evolved if the group would have continued.
The remarkable Mr. Harrison, however, is a cool-headed customer, and he demonstrated the chops and presence of mind to commemorate Remain in Light alongside a selection of other Talking Heads tracks with Adrian in concert at Rams Head Live! on March 4. These are songs that deserve to be played live, heard live, and danced to in a packed concert hall like Rams Head Live! And this was indeed a total jam worth your time.
Jerry and Adrian recruited a young band called Cool Cool Cool, consisting of some former members of Brooklyn funk band Turkuaz. The musicians performed around Jerry and Adrian, who often seemed to operate in their own bubbles of reverence at the front of the stage. Jerry was a dynamic player, switching between guitar and keyboards from song to song, and Adrian was a mystic master of his instrument on stage left. I didn’t know what to anticipate when it came to vocals, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover Jerry, Adrian, and Cool Cool Cool’s Josh Schwartz (I believe I have the right guy) divide up the songs, each taking a lead vocal on various numbers.
And actually, Harrison and Belew started the show with shared vocals on “Psycho Killer,” one of seven Talking Heads songs performed from albums other than Remain in Light. And they turned even that nervy post-punk classic into a jam song! Cool Cool Cool’s Schwartz did a serviceable job on lead vocals for “Crosseyed and Painless” next, and the bean really captured the tune’s catchy, roiling sound.
Stream “Crosseyed and Painless” by the Talking Heads on YouTube:
One of the most exciting songs of the evening was the Talking Heads’ “I Zimbra” from the band’s 1979 opus Fear of Music. The very talented Mr. Belew again took lead vocals and caught the start/stop rhythm of the dadaist poem adaptation. And indeed it was one of the most thrilling numbers to hear Adrian and Jerry play live, particularly as Jerry has cited it as a favorite. It did not disappoint, particularly when Cool Cool Cool’s drummers — including Michelangelo Carubba — dominated the end sequence with an impressive percussive march.
Interestingly, Jerry and Adrian also helmed one song each from their projects outside the Talking Heads in the second half of the show. Jerry performed his 1988 solo song “Rev It Up” right after the show’s midpoint while Adrian took a break. Then Jerry exited the stage while Adrian led a cover of King Crimson’s “Thela Gun Ginjeet” a few songs later. In between, Jerry led a performance of “Slippery People” from the Talking Heads’ 1983 album Speaking in Tongues. Cool Cool Cool lead vocalist Sammi Garett sang the song with backing from Josh, and she sounded pretty good!
Watch the official music video for “Rev It Up” by Jerry Harrison on YouTube:
The concert’s end run hit some impressive highlights — “Life During Wartime” from Fear of Music (one of the most iconic songs ever recorded); “Once in a Lifetime,” certainly Remain in Light’s most famous song and again another instantly recognizable classic; and “Take Me to the River,” the Al Green song that Talking Heads covered for 1978’s More Songs About Buildings and Food — a cover that perhaps presaged their sonic growth.
The band performed a one-song encore of Remain in Light’s “The Great Curve,” and it was clear why they saved the selection for the last song of the night. Jerry and Adrian both shined on the number, with Jerry’s spritely keyboards giving the song melodic life and Adrian’s muscular guitar sparingly added character to its rhythms until Belew broke out into the song’s exciting and climactic guitar solo. It was a wise choice to cap the night.
Jerry and Adrian remain in light and on the road for this worthy tour through June — including a show tonight in New York City. No doubt many shows will sell out, so make plans asap to join this glorious jam.
Here are some photos of Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew performing at Rams Head Live! on March 4, 2023, with a few photos of Cool Cool Cool to begin the set. All photos copyright and courtesy of Jason Nicholson. Thank you, Jason, for these killer captures of a great night of music.