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Talking Heads' Jerry Harrison will bring his 'Remain in Light' anniversary tour to Sarasota

Two men smile at camera
Michael Weintrob
Former Talking Heads keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison and guitarist Adrian Belew will be headlining 2022’s RoSfest with their tribute to Talking Heads’ classic "Remain in Light."

In 2017, the Library of Congress deemed the album "Remain in Light" as "culturally, historically, or artistically significant," and selected it for preservation. On Friday, the band’s guitarist and keyboard player will lead about a dozen musicians in celebrating the classic album.

In 1980, when new wave music was all over the radio, Talking Heads were among the genre’s top bands. That summer, Jerry Harrison, his bandmates, and producer Brian Eno met up in the Bahamas to begin work on their fourth album. The end result was a collection of songs that defied the conventional forms of rock music, taking inspiration from African rhythms and western funk music.

"I think that 'Remain in Light' in particular is a very special album,” said Harrison. “I mean, it marked the beginning of when we tried to perform these songs live that we would have a larger band. And it really was the triumph of us doing a very experimental approach that worked out."

One of the things the band did differently was to improvise. The musicians arrived to the studio without any ideas for new songs, which was not the typical way Talking Heads had worked.

"We very deliberately did not have everything written ahead of time,” said Harrison. “We had recognized that there was something special sometimes the first time you play something. So, we wanted to take that as a discipline into this album."

Courtesy of Jerry Harrison

One thing Talking Heads knew for sure was that they were all interested in creating music that would take them beyond what people had come to expect. Harrison says the ambition was to blend rock and African music, a direction they first explored on the song “I Zimbra,” from their previous album, "Fear of Music."

For "Remain in Light," the band and producer Brian Eno got creative in order to pull off their vision. For many tracks, band members recorded overlapping tracks of repetitive rhythms, long before the aid of computer recording devices like pro tools.

"Everything was done playing it, not by looping it or all the new techniques that you can use to make things like that much easier,” Harrison said. “But of course, that gives it a human and, I don't know, it breathes in a different way.”

Talking Heads broke up in 1991, when lead singer David Byrne left the band. They never made another album and have only played together once since, for their inductioninto the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

In 1972, Jerry Harrison met Jonathan Richman, and they formed The Modern Lovers.
Courtesy of Jerry Harrison.
In 1972, Jerry Harrison met Jonathan Richman, and they formed The Modern Lovers.

Since the split, Harrison, who also helped found the band Modern Lovers, has focused on producing other bands — a role he started while still with Talking Heads. During the 1990s, he produced a number of albums for artists such as Live, Crash Test Dummies, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, among others. He’s also worked in Silicon Valley, helping launch several tech companies.

It was a rediscovery of a Talking Heads performance in Rome in 1980 he found on YouTube that inspired Harrison to return to the stage.

The show that brings him to Sarasota is meant to commemorate the 40th anniversary of "Remain in Light." It was scheduled to begin in 2020 and was postponed because of the pandemic. But Harrison says there is something about the album and songs like "Once in a Lifetime" that still hold up.

“We are a very fortunate band that there seems to be continued resonance and younger audiences who have found out about us either through though their parents or their own networks,” he said.

For the current show, Harrison, now 73, has enlisted ex-King Crimson guitarist and Talking Heads touring guitarist Adrian Belew to perform "Remain in Light," along with a funk band from Philadelphia.

“And it’s worked out really, really well,” said Harrison. “I mean, it’s a big band. And unlike anything that Talking Heads had ever done, we have a horn section. So, it's trying to have the mood and the feel and the energy of 1980, but not being afraid to expand it, or do whatever we think would make it an even better show.”

Seems like a fitting tribute, given that "Remain in Light" was all about taking chances.

Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew headline the three-day music festival,RoSFest, Friday, at the Sarasota Opera House.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.