Live music is theater. Yes, live music is often seen in a theater, but they the act of performing music publically is, in some manner or another, theatrical. It’s a performance that seeks to tell a story or convey an emotion through music. Some genres of music try to lean away from this, like folk or punk (though arguably punk leans so far away from theatricality that it ends up accidentally leaning into theatricality). Others, like metal, prog, and some parts of pop lean into it, either through telling a deliberate story or through the presentation. Stop Making Sense definitely fits into the latter category.
The presentation of the concert in this film is very stripped down and minimalist. The film begins with David Byrne, on stage by himself, with a boom box ostensibly playing the backing percussion track for the first song, “Psycho Killer”. The performance of the song basically uses almost the entire empty stage, from front to back, right to left, showing the full extent of the canvas they’ll be using over the course of the show.
Then, as the concert goes on, with each successive song, we get the introduction of another musician or guest vocalist, sort of like the elements of a multi-track recording, until you get all the members of the band, plus some guest performers like Bernie Worrell and Lynn Mabry from Parlament-Funkadelic and Alex Weir from The Brothers Johnson. At which point, after the first song with all the members of the band (“Burning Down the House”), and the intermission, the show moves into full theatrical mode, with various slides and images shown on the background connecting (or very deliberately not) with the music and lyrics.
It makes for a really impressive concert experience, and makes for a great way of presenting what I like about concert films, that they capture a performance and provide a way of immortalizing that experience for those who, due to lack of time, or money, couldn’t experience it live in a way that makes the film feel like it’s grabbing that live experience.
It really makes for one of the best concert films I’ve seen to date.
Stop Making Sense is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and on Streaming on Amazon.com. Currently, the streaming version is included on Amazon Prime – though I’d say that the bonus features (and the storyboards by David Byrne in particular) are enough of a plus to make me recommend one of the releases on physical media over a digital release.
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