First, an apology: If you're reading this column, you're probably expecting a live-music review and recapitulation—and you're well within your rights to expect such a thing, but at David Byrne's I ♥ PowerPoint, presented by the Henry Art Gallery on Sunday, March 6, no rhythm section kept time, there was not a horn player, and not a single word was sung. Apart from a cinematically cut-and-pasted musical intro that lasted only about 10 minutes (and managed to remind me of both vintage Michael Jackson videos and the Russian ballet), Byrne's PowerPoint presentation was just that—an informational lecture illustrated by on-screen graphics both bizarre and literal, clear discussion outlines, and boldfaced keywords generated by Microsoft's PowerPoint program. We could have been in a boardroom, but given that PowerPoint has usurped the overhead projector as every collegiate lecturer's visual aid of choice—which Byrne illustrated by rolling out one of those arcane objects of presentation-tool history and treating it as such—Kane Hall's overtly Northwesty, warmly high-tech vibe was a perfect setting.
Considering how well received all of Byrne's business geek jokes and Redmond references were, I'm sure no one was disappointed at the lack of song. In fact, I'd guess that only one in every six lucky ticket holders (the event sold out quickly) could've named a track from Stop Making Sense. Byrne jokingly referred to himself as a stand-up comedian, but the seminal musician is unapologetically seduced by the medium's immediacy and charmingly lo-fi properties. With the air of one of those great, rare professors—the kind who are truly intent on imparting ideas and theorems and are wonderfully skilled at maintaining a presence—he likened the presentation tool to Japanese Bunraku theater and spoke of the user-friendly program's impact on language, communication, and thought. Indulging only briefly in the mirth of PowerPoint's cheesiness, Byrne was the comedic straight man; the splashy backgrounds and '80s-toned pale pinks make fun of themselves just fine. Quipping rather dryly that his discussion was "not about art, but about relationships," Byrne concluded by saying that he had no conclusions. As his Power Mac G4's display flipped on to the huge onstage screen and he scrolled to select "Sleep" from the Apple menu, he remarked simply that he loved PowerPoint and seemed little concerned with the fact that we could have gleaned as much from the event's title.
Just as he did throughout the '70s and '80s in the arena of experimental pop and new wave, Byrne, the original art-school dropout, preached to the cultured choir with his tongue tucked neatly in his cheek. His current manifesto makes the VP of sales as oddly sexy as his once-ubiquitous oversized suit.