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In The Flesh

Live Review: Remain In Light : Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew at The Vic Theatre • Chicago

| February 28, 2023

The Vic Theatre, Chicago, IL

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Review and photos by Jeff Elbel

Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads and the band’s veteran sideman Adrian Belew brought a tour celebrating their work on 1980’s influential Remain in Light album to Chicago’s Vic Theatre on Saturday. The pair were accompanied by seven-piece funk/jam/rock band Cool Cool Cool, featuring seven former members of Turkuaz (augmented by an excellent conga player and veteran Belew bassist Julie Slick) who had first brought this show to life in 2019. Plans were made to tour for the album’s 40th anniversary in 2020, but we all know what happened then.

The 14-song set list included five of Remain in Light’s eight tracks, in addition to several other crowd-pleasers that recalled the era surrounding the band’s Jonathan Demme-directed film Stop Making Sense. The main set even opened with “Psycho Killer” and closed with Al Green’s “Take Me to the River,” just like the film.

The blistering funk of “Crosseyed and Painless” was the first Remain in Light track on the menu, followed by the slinky “Houses in Motion.” Harrison played a restrained but essential rhythm guitar part while Belew and guitarist Craig Broadhead played countermelodies that weaved together in hypnotic layers. Trumpeter Chris Brouwers performed the original recording’s arresting solo in John Hassell’s primitive/futuristic “Fourth World” style.

Belew paused after the bristling Afropop of Fear of Music track “I Zimbra” to greet the crowd. “This is the most people I’ve seen in this room since the late ‘80s,” said the avant-garde guitarist and singer to the sold-out audience. The band was clearly in high spirits. After asking how the crowd was doing and basking in enthusiastic response, Belew added, “You’ve got a ways to go to be as happy as we are.” The band continued with the breathless psychedelic pop of “Drugs.”

Vocals were traded among Belew, Harrison, and Cool Cool Cool’s three vocalists. Saxophonist Josh Schwartz got into character to offer David Byrne-styled vocals during “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On),” with its repeated refrain, “I’m a government man!” The song featured rich harmonies with singers Sammi Garett and Shira Elias. Belew followed with an unhinged vocal delivery during “Cities,” with its chorus, “Find a city, find myself a city to live in.” Afterward, Belew buttered up the crowd. “I think I found one – Chicago! That’s a good city to live in.”

Belew exited the stage, and the band took a break from the familiar Talking Heads fare as Harrison led his funk-rock solo hit “Rev it Up” from 1988’s Casual Gods album. The song featured Cool Cool Cool’s horn trio with Brouwers, Schwartz, and saxophonist Greg Sanderson. Belew returned for Speaking in Tongues favorite “Slippery People,” with an electrifying vocal by Garett. Afterward, Harrison waited in the wings while Belew led the band through King Crimson’s urgent and paranoid “Thela Hun Gingeet.” The song was a standout performance on a solid evening for bassist Julie Slick, with a prominent bassline that ducked and weaved between Belew’s brash guitar lines while locking in with drummer Michelangelo Carubba.

Harrison returned for the high-energy trio of songs that brought the set reached its peak. Although he experienced some trouble with his Hammond organ sound during “Life During Wartime,” Harrison uncorked a truly weird and funky synthesizer lead as Slick anchored the song’s muscular groove. The crowd sang along at a fever pitch with the “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco” chorus. The cathartic “Once in a Lifetime” was another wall-shaker, as the audience joined Schwartz in asking themselves, “My God, what have I done?” Belew shared lead vocals with Elias and led the band through the soulful “Take Me to the River” with Gospel fervor to close the main set. The band brought the volume to a whisper before delivering an explosive conclusion.

An encore of the Afropop scorcher “The Great Curve” featured a combination of hot drumming and conga, with Harrison at the keyboard and two more wild, off-kilter guitar solos from Belew’s red Stratocaster. Afterward, the band gathered at the rim of the stage to bid farewell with elated smiles. This 43rd-anniversary celebration appears to be firing on all cylinders.

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