Don’t be fooled by the name. Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew’s Remain in Light Tour is about more than just that album.
Their show, March 5 at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, did include five of the eight songs from the 1980 Talking Heads masterpiece, which featured band member Harrison as a guitarist, keyboardist, percussionist and backing vocalist, and Belew making vital contributions as a guest guitarist. (Harrison is also credited as a co-writer of the music on all the album’s songs.) But there were also, in the setlist, four songs from 1979’s Fear of Music; three from three other Talking Heads albums; “Rev It Up” from Harrison’s 1988 solo album Casual Gods; and “Thela Hun Ginjeet” from Belew’s years in the band King Crimson.
The theme of the show, to me, had more to do with re-creating the magic of the Talking Heads tours of the early ’80s, immortalized in one of the all-time-great rock films, 1984’s “Stop Making Sense.” To do that, Harrison and Belew have put together a large, versatile band — featuring the seven members of the Brooklyn-based group Cool Cool Cool plus bassist Julie Slick and percussionist Yahuba Garcia-Torres. In Sayreville, they all played with a balance of precision and ferocity that really did recall the expanded versions of Talking Heads that toured in the era, with a touch of minimal, Talking Heads-like theatricality via the synchronized dance movements of singers Sammi Garett and Shira Elias, who stood at the front of the stage, on opposite sides. (Cool Cool Cool, featuring former members of the band Turkuaz, also opened the show with a dynamic funk-rock set of its own.)
Belew — whose fragile but expressive vocal style is not unlike that of Talking Heads frontman David Byrne — sang lead the most, though Harrison, saxophonist Josh Schwartz, Garett and Elias did so at times, too. Belew, a wildly inventive guitarist no matter what format he is playing in, took most of the instrumental solos, too.
Non-Remain in Light song were prominently featured. The band opened with “Psycho Killer” and closed the main set with Talking Heads’ distinctive arrangement of the Al Green classic, “Take Me to the River.” “Drugs” functioned as a slowed-down, spacey interlude, and “Thela Hun Ginjeet” featured Belew’s most elaborate guitar freakout, played as the song’s spoken word part was played on tape.
But it was during the Remain in Light songs (“Once in a Lifetime,” “Crosseyed and Painless,” “Houses in Motion,” “Born Under Punches” and the show’s lone encore, “The Great Curve”) that the band really seemed to peak, with a dense, propulsive sound, featuring intricate layers of vocals and instrumentation. Because of that— yes, I’ll concede — the Remain in Light Tour name did start making sense.
Here is the show’s setlist, with the songs’ lead singer or singers in parentheses.
“Psycho Killer” (Belew, Harrison)
“Crosseyed and Painless” (Schwartz, Garett, Elias)
“Houses in Motion” (Harrison)
“I Zimbra” (Belew, Schwartz, Garett, Elias)
“Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” (Schwartz)
“Rev It Up” (Harrison)
“Slippery People” (Garett, Elias)
“Thela Hun Ginjeet” (Belew)
“Life During Wartime” (Harrison)
“Once in a Lifetime” (Schwartz)
“Take Me to the River” (Belew, Garett, Elias)
“The Great Curve” (Belew, Schwartz, Garett, Elias)
No other New Jersey area shows are planned, though the band will return to the road, in other parts of the country, in May and June. For information and updates, visit remaininlight.net.
Click here for Cindy Stagoff’s NJArts.net interview with Harrison, previewing this show.
Here is a video of the Starland Ballroom show in its entirety:
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