Sunday, October 26, 2008

Byrne Baby Byrne

On Friday, I was fortunate enough to see David Byrne perform at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. I'm far from unbiased on the awesomeness that is David Byrne; whenever forced to choose a favorite band, I go for Talking Heads, and I consider some of his solo work (The Catherine Wheel, Music from the Knee Plays) to be just as strong as the best TH stuff. Additionally, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, his recent collaboration with Brian Eno, has been in heavy rotation for me since its release. Needless to say, I was pumped.

David did not disappoint me. At this point in his career, Byrne could easily become complacent and just roll out the hits each time he performs, but instead, he continues to reimagine and reinterpret songs from throughout his extensive catalog. A personal highlight for me was the unexpected "My Big Hands (Fall Through the Cracks)" from The Catherine Wheel, which has been my favorite DB solo song for some time. His interpretation of "Help Me Somebody" from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was fascinating and downright avant-garde. The original recording features the sampled vocals of a raving preacher, but Byrne decided to recreate the vocals himself; his channeling was fascinating and almost unnerving. Additionally, underappreciated TH gems like "Air" and "I Zimbra" were awesome to see live.

Of course, the show wasn't all obscurity. Classics such as "Burning Down the House" and "Once in a Lifetime" were amazing, especially when one considers how many times he must have performed each of these in his life. ("Once in a Lifetime" earned him a loooong standing ovation, and the balcony literally started to shake during "Burning Down the House" due to the vehement dancing taking place.) The new material felt relatively subdued by comparison, but there were still some very strong moments, such as the campfire feel of "My Big Nurse" and the deliberate, playful "Life is Long."

I've focused on the music so far, but it's important to note that David Byrne seems to place a lot of value in putting on a show. The most obvious example is the use of three modern dancers during select songs, who provided a fascinating visual counterpoint to the music. Their strongest moment came in "Life is Long," when they, along with Byrne, spun around and moved about the stage in swivel chairs, emphasizing the song's anti-torpor message. (Although one of them jumped over Byrne's head during "Once in a Lifetime," and that was pretty amazing too.) One of my fellow concertgoers found the dancers distracting, but Byrne himself danced about the stage in his awkward, wonderful way, showing that he still gets into his music after all these years.

Anyway, I could gush on and on, I'm sure, but you get the point by now. David Byrne is awesome. He puts on an awesome show. Spend any amount of money you must in order to see him.

P.S. For another blogger's perspective on the show, including a full setlist, check out The Lone Microphone.


Ike said...

Nice review!....since the 80's, the music of David Byrne & Talking Heads helped me gain a deeper appreciation for creative expression in the music world. David is a true icon who has never stopped using his mind, his perspective & wit to push the boundaries. What a great night. Thanks for the link.

Matthew said...

Though I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed the concert, reading this makes me sad. Foolishly and lazily, I had decided after watching the disappointing "Live at Union Chapel" DVD that most contemporary DB performances would be as listless. And then, after obsessively loving "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today," I decided that I didn't want to see him because he wasn't touring with Brian Eno. What? In retrospect, that doesn't even make SENSE. Sigh.

Have you heard the new Grace Jones record yet? Fucking amazing (except, to my ears, the title track).