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Today in the Paste Vault, we’re peering back to Aug. 23, 1980, when a who’s-who of post-punk and new-wave bands convened in Toronto for the one-day Heatwave Festival. The brainchild of famed Canadian concert promoter John Brower, Heatwave was staged at Mosport Park, a 500-acre auto-racing facility about 60 miles outside Toronto, and it featured up-and-coming bands like The Talking Heads, Pretenders, The B-52s and Elvis Costello & the Attractions.
Promoted as the “New Wave Woodstock,” Heatwave modeled itself on the pioneering outdoor festivals of yesteryear, and like many of them, it put on a great show only to wind up in financial ruin. It didn’t help when The Clash, who had been scheduled to headline the show, pulled out at the 11th hour. On the bright side, Mother Nature had no such issues, and thousands of festivalgoers spent a sunny Saturday listening to three future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees.
Prior to Heatwave, most of the bands on the bill were being played only on college radio and hadn’t sold many records. Few had ever performed in front of a festival-sized crowd, and some had never played outdoors. That would change in short order: The Pretenders, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads and B-52s soon had albums and singles climbing the charts.
For many, the highlight of the festival was the debut performance by the newly expanded Talking Heads. At the time, the group hadn’t performed live since the 1979 Fear of Music tour, and had spent 1980 with Brian Eno developing new material and recording Remain in Light. The Heatwave audience witnessed the public debut of much of the album, including “Once in a Lifetime,” “Houses in Motion,” “Born Under Punches” and “Crosseyed and Painless.”
Here’s “Once in a Lifetime.”
The Pretenders, who had released their self-titled debut album seven months earlier, opened their set with an aggressive performance of album-opener “Precious.”
Find more live Heatwave Festival recordings from The B-52s, Elvis Costello and Rockpile here.