Clean-shaven, with short hair, slicked back, and wearing white sneakers and a light-colored suit, with his shirt buttoned right up to his Adam’s apple, the gaunt David Byrne, who founded the group, comes on alone (with his acoustic guitar and a tape player) for the first number “Psycho Killer.” He’s so white he’s almost mock-white, and so are his jerky, long-necked, mechanical-man movements. He seems fleshless, bloodless; he might almost be a black man’s parody of how a clean-cut white man moves. But Byrne himself is the parodist, and he commands the stage by his hollow-eyed, frosty verve. Byrne’s voice isn’t a singer’s voice—it doesn’t have the resonance. It’s more like a shouter’s or chanter’s voice, with an emotional carryover—a faintly metallic wail—and you might expect it to get strained or tired. But his voice never seems to crack or weaken, and he’s always in motion—jiggling, aerobic walking, jumping, dancing. (They shade into each other.) Byrne has a withdrawn, disembodied, sci-fi quality, and though there’s something unknowable and almost autistic about him, he makes autism fun. He gives the group its modernism—the undertone of repressed hysteria, which he somehow blends with freshness and adventurousness and a driving beat. When he comes on wearing a boxlike “big suit”—his body lost inside this form that sticks out around him like the costumes in Noh plays, or like Beuys’ large suit of felt that hangs of a wall—it’s a perfect psychological fit. He’s a handsome, freaky golem. When he dances, It isn’t as if he were moving the suit—the suit seems to move him. And this big box that encloses him is only an exaggeration of his regular nerd-dandy clothes. Byrne may not be human (he rejects ordinary, show-biz forms of ingratiation, such as smiling), but he’s a stupefying performer—he even bobs his head like a chicken, in time to the music.
—Pauline Kael from her review of Stop Making Sense
(The New Yorker, November 26, 1984)