We’re taking a look back at some vintage footage of David Byrne as he dons an inside-out bodysuit to perform a number of Talking Heads classics on Sessions at West 54th. It’s not necessarily the weirdest performance from Byrne we’ve ever seen but it sure does rank in the top echelons. We’d bet even avid Byrne fans may raise an eyebrow to this one.
If you’ve been a longtime fan of David Byrne, there aren’t many things he would do on stage that would surprise. The lead singer of Talking Heads has always been a performing artist at heart and relishes in the idea of weirding out his audience whenever possible. Given the chance in 1997, the former Talking Heads man didn’t disappoint and provided an unforgettable TV moment.
The unique desire to confuse and confound is the mark of an experimental artist, and Byrne is no stranger to it. Whether it’s shaving your beard off live on stage in the middle of a performance or indeed interviewing yourself in an array of different guises as a promo film—Byrne has always prided himself on his perplexing performance and his deliberately confused audiences.
One such performance came on November 15h 1997 as David Byrne, backed by an eclectic and esteemed band, performed on the television series Sessions At West 54th. The programme ran from 1997-2000 and welcomed a host of different performers to do things a little differently. It was a prospect too enticing for Byrne turn down.
Making his way to the studios on the titular street, Byrne came equipped with some classics from his Talking Heads days and some nods to his new album Feelings. Oh, and some questionable outfit choices, of course. Perhaps outfits is a bit strong as Byrne’s stage ‘outfit’ was most certainly a costume.
As ever, the band Byrne performs with is immaculate as they rework some of the Heads’ hits. Complete with DJ the group roll through ‘Making Flippy Floppy’, a cover of Al Green’s ‘Take Me To The River’ and perhaps Talking Heads’ most notorious song, ‘Psycho Killer’.
The clip below sees the performance come to light but not before a quick chat with Chris Douridas of radio station KCRW. Douridas’ conversation with Byrne is interspersed throughout the show (which you can find in full below), but the clip before ‘Psycho Killer’ is perhaps the most revealing.
Douridas asks whether Byrne is worried about losing some of his audience and if he felt he had done so since leaving Talking Heads. “Oh yeah, I’ve jumped into the deep end quite a few times,” replies Byrne relishing in the alienation, “I know that I’ve alienated quite a few fans.” After all, as Byrne explains the first album he made after leaving the band was “an all-Latin record.”
It never seems to bother Byrne who clearly enjoys the idea of creation over adoration, though he does admit to his ego saying most artists expect that no matter how weird they get “we can drag our audience with us. Kicking and screaming.” The interview then clears for the industrialised otherworldly performance of ‘Psycho Killer’. Byrne spends much of the programme changing attire to fit with the mood. For ‘Psycho Killer’ he had something special planned as he performs in a bodysuit that shows a skinless human.
Perhaps to emphasise the point or perhaps it was the only thing he could find to wear. Either way, it’s just another reminder that there is nobody quite like David Byrne.
The singer impressed so much on the show that they invited him to host the second series. But for now, watch David Byrne’s 1997 performance on Sessions At West 54th:
0:30 Fuzzy Freaky
5:49 Making Flippy Floppy
11:59 Take Me to The River
17:52 Help Me Somebody
21:59 Dance on Vaseline
27:02 Back in The Box
33:28 Miss America
39:50 Psycho Killer
44:15 I Zimbra