Album: The Name of This Band is Talking Heads
. . .
It often happens that when you play a relatively new song live, it reveals more of itself to you, and I think that this is one of the things that happened with “Air,” a pretty great Fear of Music song that is tremendous in its live incarnation, finding new depths of both gorgeousness and weirdness, especially in the vocals.
Opening up with Byrne’s rhythm guitar playing an almost — almost!! — reggaeish rhythm over a Chris Frantz drum beat that wants nothing to do with it, “Air” leads off with David Byrne and Tina Weymouth harmonizing on the word “air,” four times but making it seem almost ethereal, like, you know, the air. Helping out are Jerry Harrison’s accordion-like keyboards.
But that’s only a feint, because after a quick animal noise, Byrne starts messing with our heads, getting ever more deranged as the first verse goes on.
Hit me in the face
I run faster
Faster, faster, faster, faster
Faster into the air
I say to myself
The best is his nasally “faster faster faster faster” which sounds like he just sucked air out of a helium balloon, but then there’s another switcharoo, as we get to the pre-chorus and Byrne now at his most lovely, leisurely asking questions:
What is happening to my skin?
Where is that protection that I needed?
Which leads to the chorus, which starts off with a quiet warning:
Air can hurt you too
Air can hurt you too
Then after a cool disco bassline from Weymouth, Byrne gets more intense.
Some people say not to worry about the air
Some people never had experience with
And then they go right back to the ethereal harmonies on the word “airrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.” What makes this great is that it’s all played pretty straight: even the animal noises and weird voices — on the second verse he sings “remember remember remember remember” like he’s forgotten everything he’s ever known and can only summon up a deep rasp from the depths of hell — are clearly only happening because the air around him is fucking with him.
In the end, all he can do is take a noisy, disjointed guitar solo, occasionally interjecting more animal noises as Chris Frantz throws in time-bisecting drum rolls and Tina Weymouth tosses in some “ooooo-oooooh-oooooooh” backing vocals for good measure. It’s both fantastically weird and weirdly fantastic.
“Air (Passaic 11-17-1979)”
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