TORONTO — Larry Weinstein was jubilant. Leaning against a trailer in the backstage area of the Heatwave festival, the Californian ran a hand through his hair, which was tied back in a ponytail that reached the midsection of his back, and took a sip of Molson Export. "The timing was good," he said as Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds' Rockpile blared in the background. "New Wave has come of age, and this is the show of that. There's no way to keep it locked into the clubs."
At the time — about one-third of the way through this fourteen-hour Canadian showcase of some of the best New Wave bands in the world — Weinstein was optimistic that as many as 80,000 people would come through the turnstiles by the end of the day (at a cost of thirty dollars, or twenty dollars in advance). He had been involved in planning the show — which was promoted by John Brower's Prodcoin Productions — for more than a year, and if, in fact, that many people were to turn out, the promoters would nearly break even on the festival, which cost some $2 million. And the show, which had been regarded with suspicion by most of the acts' managers and record companies, would prove the promoters' premise: that the so-called new music has a large. enough audience to make an outdoor festival financially feasible.
Talking Heads lead singer, guitarist and frontman David Byrne fumbled through his baggage for his passport as he stood in line waiting to go through customs at Toronto International Airport. It was the day before the festival, and Byrne had just flown in from New York with eight other musicians who were to appear at Heatwave in an expanded version of Talking Heads. It struck me as peculiar that he had agreed to play an outdoor festival advertised as "the one and only rock show to rival Woodstock," since only a few months earlier, Byrne had told me that he didn't think Talking Heads would be playing any concerts in the near future, and that the whole concept of live performances needed to be re-evaluated.
"I had some reservations at first," Byrne admitted about Heatwave. "But when they told us how much money they'd pay, I realized we'd be able to do it with this big band. This is sort of a different way to do a concert. And maybe it'll work — at least it won't be as feeble as it would be with just the four of us up there."
But isn't this whole event a little at odds with the original ideals of New Wave?
"It's like sealing the coffin," Byrne said flatly. "It's driving the last nail into the coffin."
The conversations with Byrne and Weinstein seem to sum up the paradoxical aspects of Heatwave, held August 23rd at the Mosport Park race track in Bowmanville, roughly fifty miles outside of Toronto. To some, Heatwave was the Woodstock of the Eighties (or, perhaps more appropriately, the Monterey Pop Festival of the Eighties) — an event that legitimized what essentially has been a cult form of music. But to others, Heatwave symbolized New Wave's death; by making the music acceptable to so many people, and by making it the centerpiece of what was partially intended as a moneymaking venture, the movement's original ideals and beliefs were compromised once and for all.
Regardless of which viewpoint you subscribe to, it's difficult to call Heatwave either a success or a failure. Financially, the festival was a flop. The 80,000 fans never materialized. Although final figures still weren't available at press time, it seems safe to say that the crowd was probably closer in size to 50,000 people. The result: the promoters lost almost $1 million.
But as Weinstein and others connected with the show were quick to point out, the smaller turnout should not necessarily be construed as disinterest in New Wave. A riot at a nearby Alice Cooper concert four days before Heatwave presumably caused many people to stay away — either out of fear of another riot (one newspaper headline read: Punk Rock Riot Feared) or out of confusion over whether the show would be canceled because of the Cooper incident.
In addition, there were advertising problems. Most of the money was spent on radio rather than print ads, and very little advertising was done in such potentially large markets as New York City and Boston.
The record companies associated with the acts on the bill apparently weren't much help either. "They told us the artists didn't have any new product out, so they couldn't help with co-op advertising," Weinstein complained. "We wanted bios and photos of the artists, and for those we had to beg. They wanted us to cover expenses. It's that kind of mentality that's put the industry where it is." (In response to Weinstein's charges, some record-company officials maintained that the promoters were disorganized, and that the labels weren't even approached until a few days before the show.)
Louis Silverstein, the investors' attorney, added that few shows of this scale ever make money on gate receipts alone; the profits usually come after the fact, from soundtrack albums and movie rights. Only the opening act — a local group called Vladymir Rogov — and Elektra/Asylum band the Kings would allow themselves to be filmed and recorded.
Financial considerations aside, Heatwave was an important musical event. Almost every group turned in a splendid performance, from the strong, early-in-the-day appearances by Rockpile and the Rumour (who appeared as a four-piece band without Graham Parker; "We ain't Graham Parker's Rumour," drummer Stephen Goulding announced, referring to the way the band had been advertised, "we're the Rumour") to the four-pronged onslaught of New Wave heavyweights the Pretenders, the B-52's, Talking Heads and Elvis Costello and the Attractions, who appeared one after another as the show reached its climax.
Most impressive, though, were Talking Heads and Costello. Walking onstage with a five-piece lineup (the four "official" band members, plus guitarist Adrian Belew), the Heads raged through "Psycho Killer," then began adding musicians until, by the fifth song, nine people were onstage. The augmented lineup gave the group enormous instrumental flexibility: at times as many as four people were playing guitar, Tina Weymouth and Busta Jones shared bass duties on a couple of songs; and the addition of keyboardist Bernie Worrell enabled Jerry Harrison to switch back and forth between keyboards and guitar. And though the band's repertoire was split between older songs (such as "Cities" and "Life during Wartime") and material from their forthcoming LP (Remain in Light), all the tunes took on a new, fuller and funkier sound. In particular, "Take Me to the River," the encore, sounded as if it were being performed by some hip Southern Baptist gospel group.
Accompanied only by piano, Costello opened his portion of the show shortly after 9:30 p.m. with a new song, "Shot with His Own Gun." The Attractions then joined him for a twenty-three-song set that drew from several new compositions as well as from each of his four albums. Looking a bit pudgy in a maroon jacket and black pants, Costello was in an unusually jovial mood, thanking the audience after nearly every song and dedicating "Loveland," one of the new numbers, to "the largest outdoor club in the world."
I don't want to make some glib assessment of this; I've only been out there three or four minutes," Jake Riviera said in an uncustomarily down-to-earth manner. It was near the beginning of the day, and we were discussing — or trying to discuss — the more-or-less philosophical questions surrounding Heatwave. As manager of Elvis Costello and Rockpile, Riviera — and his U.S. representative, Allen Frey — had played a crucial role in getting the festival off the ground by being the first to commit a major act to play the event. I asked him why he had made that decision.
Rather than offer a serious answer, Riviera slipped back into his sardonic, teasing banter. "Well, I guess we sold out. We're taking the money and running. You've got us cold; what can I say?"
On the question of whether New Wave did, in fact, sell out at Heatwave, perhaps it's better to say nothing at all. Though there now appears to be some behind-the-scenes squabbling between the investors and promoters, outwardly the show went off as smoothly as possible. Even David Byrne, who was initially negative, was delighted with Talking Heads' set.
As for whether New Wave should be presented on such a large scale, Larry Weinstein may have been right when he said, "Every time you write a story about a New Wave band, or your magazine reviews some concert or album, you're helping to make New Wave a bigger phenomenon. You're expanding its audience. And that's the same thing we were trying to do. Is there anything wrong with that?"