- Life During Wartime
- David Byrne's naive melodies get a funk-infused update.
Name a popular band, and there's likely a tribute act out there delivering soundalike versions of their songs. The Bing and the Knitting Factory get a steady diet of classic-rock tributes, and even smaller venues occasionally play host to the likes of Super Diamond (Neil Diamond) or the Iron Maidens (duh — Iron Maiden).
Life During Wartime is a little bit different. Band leader Lawrence Orleck describes the Portland-based crew as "a Talking Heads experience," and notes that his band isn't merely trying to recreate the sound of the pioneering art-rockers. Life During Wartime is using Talking Heads' music — more specifically, the funkiest era in the lifespan of the David Byrne-fronted quartet — as a jumping-off point for some extended funky breakdowns all their own.
"When Talking Heads came out with the Stop Making Sense movie by [director] Jonathan Demme, what really changed was this funk element to the band that started to develop and solidify with those [extra] musicians like [keyboardist] Bernie Worrell," Orleck says. "That's how we kind of started out, and we kind of built in the backup singers and started getting really strong jazz and funk players in the band."
With the touring Life During Wartime lineup numbering anywhere from six to eight members, Orleck and his bandmates focus on the funkiest elements of the Talking Heads catalog, a decision he says has attracted jam-band fans as well as serious old-school fans who just want to hear the Heads' tunes in a live environment again.
The idea of taking some of the songs into extended funk workouts evolved naturally on stage, Orleck says. He recalls the band being locked into a version of "Take Me to the River," which naturally evolved on the fly into another Talking Heads tune his band had never played before. That experience led the band to put more effort into pushing the funky envelope, and the songs welcomed it, Orleck says.
"The Talking Heads songs are really open, the fans are really open and the music is really open, so [we] started opening up the midsections, and it kind of opened up the improvisational vibe in our shows," Orleck says. "Because of the grooves that we're playing, people just start sweating and dancing, and they do not stop pretty much for the entire night."
There's not much more you can ask of a tribute band. And Life During Wartime doesn't ignore Talking Heads' most popular tunes: You'll hear "Burning Down the House" and "Psycho Killer," as well as some less-familiar tunes — "Moon Rocks," "Pull Up the Roots," "The Great Curve" — that are naturals for a bunch of funk and jazz folks lighting a fire under a dance party.
Learning and performing those deep cuts has only given Orleck a greater appreciation of a band he once knew solely for its hits.
"Everything is about timing," Orleck says, "and getting into this project, seeing how the music affected people, getting to know the fans of this music, and learning about the stories behind some of this music — it took a second, but now I'm in love with it." ♦
Life During Wartime with Super Sparkle • Fri, April 7 at 7:30 pm • $10 • All-ages • The Big Dipper • 171 S. Washington • bigdipperevents.com • 863-8098