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Coachella Wanted a Talking Heads Reunion, Too

today01/30/2024

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No Doubt and Sublime will each reunite at this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival for the first time in years, but there’s one massive reunion promoters couldn’t pull together: the Talking Heads.

Last September, festival curator and Goldenvoice president Paul Tollett traveled to the Toronto International Film Festival for a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Talking Heads’ seminal concert film, Stop Making Sense. For the first time in over 30 years, David Byrne sat alongside his former bandmates Jerry Harrison, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth to discuss the film project in a live panel moderated by Spike Lee.

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Tollett tells Billboard he had traveled to Toronto to potentially discuss having the Talking Heads perform at Coachella and met with members of the band and their representatives, but that he “sensed there were no shows happening, so I didn’t make an offer.”

Tollett emphasized that he never broached the subject of payment with the band and ultimately went home empty-handed. He would not discuss how much he was willing to pay for a reunion show at Coachella, though a source familiar with how much artists are paid to headline the mega-festival says the gig could have earned the group as much as $10 million.

Shortly after Tollett returned from his trip, a second offer came through, this time from Live Nation. The promoter told the Talking Heads it was willing to pay the band $80 million to headline six to eight festival gigs and headlining slots, sources close to the group say. The Talking Heads ultimately rejected that offer as well. Live Nation declined to comment when asked about the offer.

Ever since Jane’s Addiction agreed to reunite at Coachella in 2001, the Indio, Calif., music festival has become the go-to platform for reunion gigs, with acts like Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Pixies, Rage Against the Machine, The Specials and dozens more all finding a way to come back together for one more show in the desert. But as the event ages — it’s now in its 23rd year — and competition in the festival market intensifies, pulling these kinds of comeback concerts together has become increasingly difficult.

More than two months after the Toronto Film Festival, in early December, Tollett found himself at the center of a controversial dispute around Sublime’s reunion. Mike “Cheez” Brown, who managed the group Sublime with Rome, had learned that music manager Kevin Zinger with Regime Music Group had joined forces with Vandals bassist and musician-turned-executive Joe Escalante to stage an official Sublime reunion with original bassist Eric Wilson, original drummer Bud Gaugh and late singer Bradley’s Nowell’s son, Jakob Nowell, on vocals.

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Brown also learned that Zinger and Escalante were targeting Coachella for the band’s first major reunion show and called Tollett to discuss. Just months earlier, Tollett had booked Sublime with Rome atop the Cali Vibes reggae festival, slated for this February in the band’s hometown of Long Beach, Calif.

While Tollett and many other festival talent buyers had heard about the effort to launch a Jacob Nowell-fronted reunion, at the time Brown called him, Tollett had not yet submitted any offers for the group, who had not yet performed live together. A test gig eventually came together weeks later as part of a charity event, and by late December, Sublime with Rome and the new Sublime had reached a settlement. Brown and Sublime with Rome agreed to end the band’s 13-year run after it played the festivals and dates they had already booked for 2024, while the newly re-formed Sublime would prepare for its first comeback gig as a band, scheduled for Apr. 13 at Coachella.

The No Doubt reunion, largely negotiated in late December and early January, would turn out to be easier and more straightforward than Sublime and the Talking Heads.

It was Tollett who initiated talks with Stefani’s manager, Irving Azoff, about the idea. The discussion with bandmates dragged out longer than expected as talks delved into band business outside of the reunion, but eventually, the group agreed to reunite in large part because of its long relationship with Goldenvoice, who promoted some of the band’s first shows. The $10 million payday would be significant for bandmates Adrian Young, Tony Kanal and Tom Dumont, whose current band, DREAMCAR, is led by AFI singer Davy Havoc and booked to play Goldenvoice’s Cruel World festival in May.

For her part, Stefani was already booked to play Cali Vibes in February when she agreed to play Coachella. A source close to Stefani tells Billboard not to expect a major No Doubt tour to follow the one-time reunion set, as she already has plans in place for the second half of the year to promote new solo music she plans to release this summer.

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