Life During Wartime by The Talking Heads (not to be confused with the Pinhead Gunpowder punk song, or the 2009 movie from Todd Solondz) provides a view of NYC living in the late 1970’s as a metaphor for those who were living in the Big Apple during the Second World War. Lines such as “The sound of gunfire, off in the distance, I’m getting used to it now” and “I got three passports, couple of visas, don’t even know my real name” are near apocalyptic in their emotional provocations.
The refrain is catchy and memorable, sung with enthusiasm by crowds, “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around … I ain’t got time for that now.” Seen in Stop Making Sense, the song has joggers in ’80s era wardrobe dancing behind the rubber-legged David Byrne. Life During Wartime is a powerful song and seems to bring out a strong performance from the groups that play it in concert.
Artist: Widespread Panic
Live Video: 7-28-2008
The Skinny: One of the more well-known covers of Life During Wartime comes from Widespread Panic, a band heavily influenced by Talking Heads. John Bell’s gritty voice, as well as the band’s rocking throughout the song, create a dance frenzy and increases the energy of the crowd when placed in the second set.
Artist: The Motet
Live Video: Jam Cruise 8 (January 4, 2010)
The Skinny: The Motet are incredibly funky and give this version with Kyle Hollingsworth an extra kick. The visuals behind the band increase the crowd’s vitality during the song, as does the continued dancing on the stage, similar to that of the Stop Making Sense version.
Live Video: 9-1-2002
The Skinny: Strangefolk keyboardist Don Scott rarely sings, but when he does, it is usually perfect for the selection. Heavy on the keys, and progressively more funky, Strangefolk takes their time with this cover. The group jams out in between verses, letting the five-piece unit pace themselves throughout and explore the potential the song has for improvisation.
Artist: The Drinks
Live Video: 6-27-2010
The Skinny: How would an acoustic version of Life During Wartime sound? Vocal group The Drinks show us in this performance from a small venue in Los Angeles. There’s even a little country twang to this one.
Artist: The Automatic
Live Video: 2-18-2007
The Skinny: Heavy on the keys with a nice intro including cool lighting, you can hear some Devo in the background, an interesting mash-up of sorts. Probably the most intense version of them all, thanks to the singer/keyboardist.
Artist: The Subscribers
Live Video: Roktoberfest 2007
The Skinny: Again a nice build up intro, this one borrows from the studio version of Life During Wartime, complete with Byrne-esque showmanship. While the tambourine player seems to be mailing it, the growing band on stage and dancers make this cover stand out.
It’s hard to beat the original. The percussion in the background is deep and bassy, induces fear and gives the sound of gunfire and bombs with the percussion.
A more staid version of the song shows Byrne has mellowed with age, but still has intensity in his voice.