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Napolitano Provides Energy to Heads Set

The Heads didn’t actually discuss former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne during their Roxy show Thursday, but Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison and Chris Frantz sent a clear message right before the encore, via an electronic board flashing an array of slogans, among them: “Welcome our new singer Johnette . . . we’re ego downsizing.”

One might say they’d already downsized expectations on their debut album, “No Talking Just Head.”

A variety of guest-star vocalists-songwriters makes the collection play more like an audition than a coherent statement. On this sold-out first of three Roxy shows, however, former Concrete Blonde frontwoman Johnette Napolitano’s vocals meshed seamlessly with the Heads’ funky, offbeat melodies, providing focus and much-needed energy.

During the 90-minute set, Napolitano helped spin numerous old Talking Heads tunes too, giving them an earthy feel where Byrne made them arty. (Byrne filed a lawsuit against his former bandmates when they announced the name of the new group, but the suit was recently settled out of court--terms were not disclosed--permitting Weymouth and Frantz to go ahead with their plans.)

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Relaxed and playful, Napolitano was as excited as a schoolgirl to share the stage with Blondie diva Debbie Harry, who sang on “Punk Lolita” and the album’s title tune. Album guest-star Maria McKee stepped up to sing “No Big Bang,” but her more reserved style didn’t mesh as well with the band’s razor-sharp live groove. Aided by drummer Frantz, bassist Weymouth both anchored and buoyed the set with her deft rhythms.

The mood was predominantly upbeat, with some darker shadings from such numbers as the Napolitano collaboration “Damage I’ve Done” and the Talking Heads’ signature “Psycho Killer” (during which Napolitano briefly parodied Byrne’s stage moves).

They triumphantly revisited Al Green’s searingly soulful “Take Me to the River” (recorded by Talking Heads on 1978’s “More Songs About Buildings and Food” album). In her natural element, Napolitano nailed the difficult vocal, while the band loosened up and let the tune sprawl.

A communal vibe took over during the encores, which included such vintage items as “Life During Wartime,” Harrison’s solo tune “Rev It Up” and the Tom Tom Club hit “Genius of Love.” These venerable new-wave musicians proved they can step confidently into the future--all they really needed was a “Head” transplant.

* The Heads play tonight at the Roxy, 9009 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 8 p.m. $20. (310) 278-9457.


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