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Music

How David Byrne ruined Talking Heads' final performance

@SamWKemp

As Talking Heads discovered during their final ever performance in 1984, notoriety has the power to make divas of us all. It had been one hell of a ride for the group, who had just recorded their acclaimed concert film Stop Making Sense with the help of Jonathan Demme. The undertaking saw Talking Heads expand their lineup to a nine-piece band, including Parliament Funkadelic’s Bernie Worrell on keys. The whole thing was a huge success, so why did the accompanying end with a show multiple members have described as their worst ever? Well, the answer to that may lie in the actions of frontman David Byrne.

Talking Heads’ final date on February 6th, 1984, took them to the Sweetwaters South Festival in Christchurch, New Zealand. Their 12-song setlist was positively heaving with crowd-pleasers, tracks like ‘Burning Down the House’, ‘Swamp’, ‘Making Flippy Floppy, and ‘This Must Be the Place [Naive Melody]’ from their recently released LP, Speaking in Tongues. The show was supposed to be a celebration, but according to Talking Headsdrummer and notorious Bryne-hater Chris Frantz, the band struggled to make it to the need of their set without losing their frontman.

Speaking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Frantz explained: “David left the stage in the middle of the set, and I had to go get him and basically drag him back to the stage. His excuse for leaving was he was ‘sick of playing for people who had their feet in the mud.’ It wasn’t even a particularly muddy day there. There might have been some mud in front of the stage. He just didn’t want to do the band anymore.”

Bassist Tina Weymouth elaborated when she spoke to The Guardian in 2011. In her eyes, the show was Talking Heads’ “absolute worst gig ever,” largely because the audience wouldn’t stop booing and throwing things at the stage, not even when Byrne asked two girls protesting as part of the Maori indigenous rights movement to join him onstage “That was difficult enough,” she said. “We were five songs into the show when David Byrne ran off and refused to come back on. He said, ‘I’m not going to play for a bunch of people dancing in the mud.’ Go figure. David had a lot of temper tantrums when he got to be a big star. He couldn’t stop it; fame and the whole diva thing was just overwhelming for him”.

After the show, the band decided to throw a party to celebrate the end of the tour. However, the mood was dampened by the absence of Byrne, whose decision to bail on his bandmates made it clear that their time together was about to come to an end. According to Weymouth, the party was “this really sad, dismal affair where people got quietly drunk in the corner. The tour ended not with a bang but a whimper. It was awful that everything we’d been working toward ended like that”.

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