July 16, 2015

[Summer Concert Series] Talking Heads at the Pantages Theatre

  • By: Katherine Flynn

Summer is concert season, and as part of our own summer concert series, we're putting the spotlight on places that have witnessed some of the most memorable musical performances in American history. Some are traditional venues, and others… well, not so much. But they all have two things in common: terrific music and fascinating history.

Liner Notes

Performers: David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth, Ednah Holt, Lynn Mabry, Steven Scales, Alex Weir, Bernie Worrell

Venue: Pantages Theatre

Location: Hollywood, California

Date: December 1983

Memorable moment: The concert film Stop Making Sense was filmed over the course of a four-night stand by the Talking Heads at the Pantages Theatre. Director Jonathan Demme wanted to shoot additional scenes on a soundstage made to recreate the Pantages, but the band thought the lack of audience response would hinder their performance’s energy.

Show vibe: Stop Making Sense was shot during the Talking Heads’ tour in support of their fifth studio album, Speaking In Tongues, when the band was arguably reaching the peak of their fame. Audience members are featured briefly in only a few of the movie's shots, but to this day, filmgoers dance in the aisles at public screenings.

150716_blog-photo_Pantages-theater-exterior
The Art Deco Pantages Theatre was originally constructed in 1930 as part of the Pantages vaudeville theater circuit.

The Full Program

After seeing a Talking Heads show at the Hollywood Bowl in early 1983, rising director Jonathan Demme (now known for his work on films such as The Silence of the Lambs) approached frontman David Byrne about the possibility of filming part of the band’s tour in support of their latest album, Speaking In Tongues.

Demme described the initial performance he attended as a “movie waiting to be filmed.” Both Demme and Byrne cite the filming of Stop Making Sense as a “highly collaborative experience,” mixing Demme’s acclaimed cinematographic sensibilities with Byrne’s keen eye for theatrics and design. The set was intentionally minimalist -- band members weren't even allowed to have water onstage.

Stop Making Sense (named after a lyric in the Talking Heads song "Girlfriend Is Better") celebrated its 30-year anniversary in 2014 and is still widely regarded to be one of the greatest concert films of all time. Between the artful shooting and direction, the Heads’ carefully orchestrated performance, the litany of seminal hits that come one after another, and Byrne’s iconic white suit that gets bigger with each song until it resembles a boxy refrigerator, the film feels just as fresh and relevant now as it did when it was released. A 1984 New Yorker review described it as "a dose of happiness from beginning to end."

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The theater’s intricate interior Art Deco detailing was restored as part of a large-scale renovation and restoration project in 2000.

The Pantages Theatre, for its part, has served Hollywood as a live performing arts and sometime movie house since 1930, when it was constructed as part of the Pantages vaudeville circuit. After a ten-year stint of hosting the Academy Awards from 1949-'59 and several decades as a movie theater, it closed in 1977 and officially reopened as a performing arts venue, most recently featuring performances of Broadway hits like Wicked and Chicago, as well as live music.

The theater received a $10 million restoration and upgrade in 2000, including a thorough repainting of the outer lobby and stage house interior and the replacement of missing chandeliers.

Katherine Flynn is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.

@kateallthetime

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