Byrne-in’ Down the House: Former Talking Head Is No Ordinary Guy
Byrne-in’ down the house: Former Talking Head is no ordinary guy
I was always told as a kid to never stare directly into the sun, which is pretty solid advice for anyone. But while standing only a few feet away from David Byrne (www.davidbyne.com) during his Dec. 8 performance at Raleigh’s Meymandi Concert Hall, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was doing just that. Not just because of the stark hospital-white outfit that perfectly matched his gracefully-grayed hair, but also from his indomitable stage presence. He stood out magnificently as he entered the pitch-black stage to deliver the preface to what would be a remarkable evening of his current tour, The Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno. There was wild applause before he even spoke one word, let alone played a note “There will be no substitutes. This is not an a la carte menu,” Byrne told the audience. “There will be dessert, and I will be your waiter.” The former Talking Heads front man emanates an indescribable kind of cool that oddly enough, has evolved from the sheer awkwardness that was a hallmark of his old band’s early days. We’ve all seen his dorky, yet quirky moves from the video for “Once in a Lifetime,” (check it out at www.youtube.com/ watch?v=EYbUCvz1LYE) which have endeared him to so many that his fan base defies any simple demographic description. There is, however, much more to what makes David Byrne’s stage show one of the most rewarding concert experiences in all of music. It has nearly as much to do with his stellar 10-piece backing band in matching white attire, which includes three dancers and three back-up singers (who also dance), along with a tight musical unit of bassist, keyboardist, drummer and percussionist. Byrne still possesses the classic moves, but was much more subdued in his delivery that night. He relied on his dancers, who were simply spellbinding every time they took the stage, to perform as an extension of both his own movements and his words. The most curious thing about the dancers was their choreography, or seeming lack thereof, as they rarely moved in unison. Instead, each dancer seemed to have a mind of their own as they bounded around stage, showing off amazing body control. They were often directly interpretive of what was being performed,slinking around in comfy office chairs during the song “Life is Long,” or just simply resurrected the robotic movements of old, as with the aforementioned “Once in a Lifetime.” Their encounters with each other and the back-up singers resulted in hilarious and spastic interactions that might have been a little bewildering to a casual observer. However, its Byrne’s avant-garde aesthetic sensibilities that made what might be construed as a mockery of pop music culture totally reasonable and highly enjoyable to his fans. Though the impact of his work with the Talking Heads has been well documented, it’s Byrne’s solo work that has been consistently strong since breaking from the band. His current tour focuses primarily on his collaborations with the masterful producer and electronic musician Eno, including the recently released Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, and has done a fine job of mixing the excellent new material with some of the older favorites. The show opened with the synth-folk
“Strange Overtones” off of the new album, from which he performed eight of the 11 tracks. There was also plenty of Talking Heads material to go around, particularly work from Fear of Music, More Songs About Buildings and Food and Remain in Light, all Eno collaborations. “Crosseyed & Painless” and the highly-appropriate “Life During Wartime” drew some of the biggest reactions during the main set. Oh, and there was plenty of the dessert that Byrne mentioned during his opening comments. After wrapping up the 15-song set with the psychedelic “Feel My Stuff,” Byrne returned to the stage triumphantly with classics “Take Me to the River” and “The Great Curve.” Still, a sense that something big was going to happen still hung in the air, and for very good reason. After a few minutes off rolling applause and screams from the audience, the band came out for yet another encore. You could faintly see everyone in place onstage through the darkness thanks to the occasional camera flash just before the famous opening guitar lick of “Burning Down the House” rang out. The house lights were thrown on to reveal that all eleven bodies on stage were donned in matching tutus. The groove of this song was undeniable, with dreadlocked hippies, buttoned-up yuppies and wrinkled retirees all throwing down as hard as humanly possible. It was an incredible sight to behold and quite a rarity to see one artist so seamlessly bridge the generational and social gap. After the buzz-inducing “Burning,” the band took a bow and exited the stage. But wait, the house lights still weren’t on. Could there have been a third encore? Indeed there was. After a deafening roar, the spotlight dimmed on Byrne, with the rest of his crew lending back vocals in the background, as he offered up the poignant title track to Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. As the band stomped loudly off stage at its conclusion, Byrne sauntered apart from the rest behind the drum kit, bowing his head humbly and graciously while waving to the adoring audience. It was an exhilarating mix of music, theater and ballet and everything a fantastic concert should be from one who has more than earned his title of “Rock’s Renaissance Man.”
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