My desire for having this album snakes backward in time for over 40 years. I first heard TVLKING HEVDS in the summer of 1978 when “Take Me To The River” eked its way onto the FM Rock airwaves that I had just started listening to. The band’s edgy art rock vibe really stood out against the latest Who album currently being given much heavier airplay. It was some time in early 1979 when one of the two FM Rock stations I listened to played this album, which was a syndicated promo only event from the band’s then current “More Songs About Buildings + Food” tour, as captured live at the Cleveland Agora.
At the time, I recorded the concert onto a cassette tape, which was long lost into the black hole where all of my tapes went in the mid-90s. But I really held a torch for this live broadcast, since the band managed to be previewing music that would not manifest on disc until their next album, “Fear Of Music,” later that year. I was spellbound by a new song in the program called “Electricity.” Not knowing that by the time I finally heard it on their next album, it would undergo drastic metamorphosis into the psychedelic/funk/dub of “Drugs.”
For decades I held my memory of this live version, heard on radio and tape ages ago. Then, in 2009, the band’s first [and best] live album, “The Name of This Band Is TVLKING HEVDS” finally made its long overdue appearance on CD and the 2xCD set was jam packed with what I thought was the whole ’79 Cleveland radio concert. Once I got the CD, I saw that Rhino had only cherry picked three songs from it. One being the crucial “Electricity.” That was fine, but I still wanted to hear the full show.
That would wait a few years until when shopping in Rockaway Records in Los Angeles, I finally found a copy of the “Warner Brothers Music Show” album featuring TVLKING HEVDS. Of course this was the sort of record that stayed in the music industry melting pot that was L.A. And probably never made it to the Southeast where I lived. The one copy I’d heard ages ago was likely all that Central Florida ever had.
TVLKING HEVDS: Live On Tour/The Warner Brothers Music Show – US – CD-R 
- The Big Country
- Warning Sign
- Artists Only
- The Girls Want To Be With The Girls
- The Good Thing
- New Feeling
- Found A job
- Psycho Killer
- Take Me To The River
The concert was a perfect portrait of the band as they were in their sophomore album period of growth and success. Their sound here was far beyond that of their debut album, and their next records would build dramatically on the already considerable movement foreward that 1978 had represented for the band. The music was fuller, and more polished than the debut album and probably lent itself easily to live performances of this time.
It was a little unusual opening the live set with the slowly paced tune “The Big Country.” With its slide guitar interjections, the slyly anti-social lyric might get an easy pass if heard by uncritical ears, but the poison pill at the center of this barbed look at America was the central lyric “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me to!”
Another of the lovely perks of this recording was the extended, synth percussion movement added to the long buildup for “New Feeling.” I always loved percussion from a synthesizer as being one of the coolest types of sounds and it was interesting to hear the band using the electronic palette to extend and embellish the song in the live arena. The sounds were similar to what DEVO lived to use on their studio records of the same time and were a startling addition to the song.
Of course, the early version of “Drugs” which was called “Electricity” at this juncture, was an exclusive peek at a song that was still under construction. The loping rhythm guitar figure that drove the song would be drastically transformed by electronic dub technique by the time it surfaced on “Fear Of Music.” Also of note here was that the lyrics were an earlier cut with some differences to the final version on disc. The vibe, of course, was dramatically less psychedelic.
Most of the “More Songs About Buildings + Food” album was rightfully given the spotlight here, and one of my favorite songs from that one was the ode to D.I.Y. culture that was “Found A Job.” The opening line of “damn that television, what a bad picture!” was such an arresting way to begin a song that we were immediately hooked by it as Byrne spun the tale of Judy and Bob making their own culture and saving their marriage in the bargain. Bryne sounded like he was having fun with his delivery, especially the line about how there might even be a spin-off.
The linchpin of the show was the show stopping, almost eight minute version of “Psycho Killer” that boasted African guitar embellishments in the extended intro. Byrne’s vocal performance showed him really biting into the song, but where the album coda began was where the song began to really charge up into a frenzied exorcism of sound as the tempo sped up and the guitars of Harrison and Byrne began soloing. This was the kind of inventive embellishment that many bands find them selves doing around the time of their second tour. When they have a repertoire of about two dozen songs and need to color outside of the outlines to fill up a headlining gig.
One of the funniest things about this album was the fan who clearly shouts “that’s the only f***ing song they ever play on the radio” as the distinctive synthetic hi-hats of “Take Me to The River” close out the album. But the sinuous, slow-mo funk of the cover was an airplay hit for a reason. This song was as sexy as hell. Especially coming from a bunch of white, uptight preppies in Lacoste® sportswear. To Byrne’s credit, the shirts were hand-me-downs from Chris Frantz who didn’t care for all of the clothes his mom sent him.
Clothing aside, I have issues with how David Byrne was alleged to have treated his bandmates. Even Byrne will admit to perhaps being on the autistic scale; which brings certain behaviors with it. But by the same token, even Chris Frantz admitted that it was Byrne’s perspective that gave the band their unique lyrical characteristics that made them “pop” as it were. The fact was that Frantz stuck with the band until the door was slammed in his face. That Byrne was always an “odd duck” certainly gave them their cachet with me and this album reveals his off, jarring persona in all of its prickly fascination. And best of all, musically, this album made a great missing middle phase from the intimate, tentative sounds of the first half of “The Name Of This Band Is TVLKING HEVDS” and that of its second half. This album was a necessary transitional portrait of the band growing in confidence and power before leaving their first phase in the dust for greater challenges to undertake.