Remain in Light as the second set of a 1996 Halloween show, let’s just say I was skeptical. How was the ultimate jam band going to approximate the tightly wound funk and weird angularity of the Heads? Or would they turn these songs into meandering fifteen-minute improv sessions with endless digressions and breakdowns? Then again, this all makes a certain amount of sense. The 1980 Brian Eno-produced Remain in Light saw the Talking Heads sprawl out in ways they never had before. They took on several additional musicians for the recording process, including one of the gods of prog-rock, King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew. They experimented with African polyrhythms blended with New Wave sounds (decades before Vampire Weekend); they worked in a horn section, and let the art-funk overpower the nerd-punk of their first two records. The songs stretched out in length. On tour, they took on five additional players, including Belew, to form a nine-piece band.
But at the heart of it all was still the incomparable husband-and-wife team of drummer Chris Frantz and bassist Tina Weymouth, the most unlikely funk/soul rhythm section imaginable but one that could hang with almost any Stax or Motown crew. And then there’s David Byrne’s paranoid alto bark. So can Phish really bring enough white soul and weirdness to the table? Well, no; they aren’t the Talking Heads. The performances are loose and rangy, the rhythms often indistinct, particularly on the opener, “Born Under Punches,” a song that needs maximum punch. But they do hit the choruses of “Crosseyed and Painless” and “The Great Curve” nicely, even if the album’s big hit “Once in a Lifetime” is far too cluttered. Overall, even reined in by the tightly-arranged compositions of Remain, they’re still Phish, not a Talking Heads tribute band, but their love for these brilliant songs comes through in even the noodliest, tie-dye-fractal moments.
For the sake of contrast, take some time and check out the Heads themselves below, live in Rome with Adrian Belew on lead guitar. They do two Remain in Light songs: “Born Under Punches” and “Houses in Motion.” And Belew’s solos blow the roof off.
Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.
Watch Phish Play the Entirety of the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light (1996) is a post from: Open Culture. You can follow Open Culture on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and by Email.