"HI. I HAVE A TAPE I want to play." As far as opening lines go, this flat declaration sounds more like something the weirdo who sat behind me in fourth grade would blurt out than a great rock and roll entrance. For that matter, David Byrne's white Keds and gray high-water slacks, seen padding onstage in the opening shot of Jonathan Demme's 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense, constitute a minor revelation themselves in the art of thwarting rock-god clichés.
As promised, Byrne pushes "play" on a cheap jambox—and the coldly syncopated beat of "Psycho Killer" springs to life. The cassette player is, of course, a clever prop—the electronic rhythms are being piped in through the concert hall's sound system—but it's our first clue that the conventions of rock music and performance are about to undergo a good old-fashioned postmodern deconstruction and reassembly. (Other clues from the first three minutes of the film include Byrne yelping in French as he does the Chuck Berry "duck walk" with his acoustic guitar across the barren stage.)
Shot during what would be the Talking Heads' final tour in late 1983, Stop Making Sense would never have held up so well if it was predicated entirely on such art/theater/rock subversions. As smart and fun as these aspects of the film are, they exist only to support an incredible performance of equally incredible music. To capture the instrumental complexity of their studio work, the band enlisted five additional musicians (including P-Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell) to round out their live sound for the 1983 tour, and the resulting chemistry is almost impossible to discuss without lapsing into hyperbole. But it's saying something when even Byrne's iconic Big Suit is overshadowed by the ecstatic performance of percussionist Steve Scales, who looks like he might be having more fun than you or I have had in our entire lives. That's the sort of thing that defies deconstruction.