Credit: Craig Howell

Why the last-ever Talking Heads concert was their worst

Talking Heads enjoyed a glittering career that which saw them become a household name all over the globe, re-writing the rule book on what a band can do and conquering just about everything there is to beat before calling it a day under a cloud of bitterness in 1991. However, their final gig wasn’t this great hurrah that saw them bow out on a high like The Last Waltz. Instead, it was their darkest moment as a group that cemented that their time together had passed.

Tensions began rising uncontrollably over the final few years of their tenure together. David Byrne allegedly becoming somewhat controlling and lacking compromise over the creative direction on their 1988 album Naked would end up being the final straw for the band. However, it wouldn’t be until December of 1991 when the news of their split was finally confirmed. “We were shocked to find out about [Byrne’s departure] via the Los Angeles Times,” Chris Frantz said at the time of the break-up. “As far as we’re concerned, the band never really broke up. David just decided to leave.” 

Although they recorded music together until 1988, they couldn’t bring themselves to hit the road in support of their final three records amid the personal turmoil. David Byrne and the rest of the band were rarely reading from the same hymn sheet at the best of times, and this performance in Melbourne in 1984 was the result of issues that had boiling underneath the surface vehemently for over the preceding nine years.

Tine Weymouth painfully recalled to The Guardian that this moment was the low-point of their career as a band and the night that sadly sealed Talking Heads’ fate. After this catastrophe, their end was inevitable, and it is staggering to consider that they managed to reconvene in the studio following this event. “The absolute worst gig ever was the last Talking Heads show,” she said. “We were headlining this tour in Australia and New Zealand. Opening for us were bands like Simple Minds, INXS, Eurythmics, B52’s, Pretenders. It was a phenomenal lineup, and we were the headliners, and it was a fantastic opportunity. But we couldn’t go on stage because David Byrne, without telling anyone, had let on a couple of crazy girls – who I suppose had their hearts in the right place – who were trying to promote this freedom for Maori people thing, but it was the wrong place and the wrong time.

“People were booing and throwing things at them, and that was difficult enough. Anyway, we finally got on stage, and 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.

“There was meant to be a great big party afterwards, and David didn’t even show up. It was just 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 towards ended like that.”

Drummer Chris Frantz recalled the incident in 2020 and his memory was as devastating as Weymouth’s account of the event. “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,” he stated. “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.”

For a band that had accomplished as much as Talking Heads, it was a travesty they didn’t get to have their final moment in the sun. The chance to play a show that gave the band the send-off that all four genuinely deserved was disappointingly taken away from them.

Byrne’s selfish act of sabotaging the concert left Talking Heads in tatters. Although he did reconvene with the new-wave outfit for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, that performance’s energy was lacklustre, to say the least. Whilst it was splendid to see them on the stage again, that magnetism that made Talking Heads so enthralling had dissipated and the magic had long disappeared.

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