In the liner notes to the Talking Heads album Sand in the Vaseline, bassist Tina Weymouth explains that the group took its name from an issue of TV Guide that discussed how the term referred to televised images of speakers that were "all content [and] no action." The term seemed to represent the cerebral -- and at times demented -- music the band made, as well as its off-kilter performance style.
While Madison's Houses In Motion takes its name from the Talking Heads' 1980 album Remain in Light, it offers a little more action and a bit less content than the band it exists to exalt. As a tribute band, that's what it's designed to do.
By the time Remain in Light was released, Talking Heads frontman David Byrne had developed a distinctive style of singing that was cool and detached at one moment and rife with anxiety and agitation the next. While his vocal delivery hints at repressed rage and mental breakdown -- especially in songs such as "Psycho Killer" and "Burning Down the House" -- it never loses its rhythmic precision. It has so much order, in fact, that it flirts with disorder.
Houses In Motion takes this formula and loosens it up a bit. While the guitar lines are usually as tight and rhythmic as ever, Greg Ujda's vocals explore the theme of psychological chaos in a way that's more disordered and less minimalist than Byrne's. At live shows, this disheveled delivery seems to draw people out of their shells, making HIM one of the most consistently danced-to bands in town. It also seems to draw a wider-than-usual audience to shows, from post-punk addicts to dreadheaded jam-band fans.
The group's cover of "The Book I Read," a track from the Talking Heads' debut album, Talking Heads: 77, is a prime example of HIM's take on order versus disorder. While the original version, recorded in a sound studio, features crisp vocals, steady drumbeats and sharp, angular guitars, the HIM version, recorded at the High Noon Saloon, sounds at least as unstable thanks to a slightly faster tempo and the tension between precise drumming and less-polished vocals.
This isn't to say that the group wouldn't make a slick cover of the song in the studio, but the energy showcased in the live tracks seems to be what gets the audience moving, not just nodding their heads on the sidelines.
An MP3 of the cover version of "The Book I Read" is available in the related downloads at right. More songs by the tribute band can be found on its MySpace page. Houses in Motion is performing at Café Montmatre on Friday, February 13.
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