"Either you loved U2, or you liked them fine," writes Dan Kois in Slate's R.E.M. vs. U2. "Either you loved R.E.M., or you hated them."
That's a good sentiment to get the e-mails coming, but it doesn't quite capture where I was in the 80s. U2? R.E.M.? I liked 'em both just fine. But I loved, loved, loved Talking Heads.
The closest I ever got to seeing any of these bands perform was in the movies (by the time I was finally in physical proximity to a U2 or R.E.M. concert, they'd lost my interest -- I'd moved on to Lou Reed and T Bone Burnett). In 1982 we had U2 Live at Red Rocks: Under A Blood Red Sky. Having seen the Red Rocks amphitheatre, I was duly impressed by the bonfires on the cliffs. I thought Bono demonstrated a nifty grasp of rock theatrics with his flag-waving, but his little jig with the feathered blonde from the audience struck me as being a bit twee.
A year later Talking Heads gave us Stop Making Sense. It's just grossly unfair of me to even begin to compare the two performances. One movie caught a glimpse of a very young band on the rise, the other demonstrated a journeyman band's absolute mastery of music and theatrics. A more even-handed compare and contrast would be SMS with U2's Zoo TV. Tina Weymouth reportedly came backstage during a Zoo TV concert and told the Irish rock stars this was what she'd hoped her little band would amount to. She was there, she's entitled to that opinion. I still think U2 comes off looking like bunch of copycats and hucksters. Bono's "sincere" set, when he takes off the shades and sings the obligatory numbers from Joshua Tree, *really* kicks me in the gonads. And lest we somehow misconstrue his "message", he skips backstage and reappears as MacPhisto. Eef -- Stop Making Sense is looking better and better all the time.
These days my CD collections of both U2 and R.E.M. have been shoved to the back of a dusty closet. As for Talking Heads ... it's just not Friday night without at least one or two songs from their still-impressive body of work.