Who: David Byrne
Laura Musselman David Byrne -- seen here at Benaroya Hall on Feb. 18, 2009 -- brought the the same ensemble to The Paramount last night.
Where: The Paramount
When: Wednesday, June 24
There he was, David Byrne, generous and affable as ever, standing center stage wearing all white and flanked by a 10-member troupe of back-up singers, dancers, and musicians, who were also decked-out in all white.
While I've never been one to pay attention to wardrobe at rock shows, it was impossible not to pick up on how this all-white theme complemented various aspects of Byrne and his material: The baptismal purity of "Take Me To The River"; the robotic work-a-day monotony of "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today"; the evangelist ravings of "Help Me Somebody". Not to mention, solid white is fitting with Byrne's overall Modernist aesthetic. Oh, and it matches his now-signature hair...which, at 56 years old, is also solid white.Before playing a single note, Byrne explained to the audience that the show he was about to perform would be made up of songs he wrote with "a British producer and musician named Brian Eno." Eno--whose plate is so full with producing such marginal acts (sarcasm, by the way) U2 and Coldplay he could not join Byrne for any of the shows on this tour--has been working off-and-on with the former Talking Heads frontman since 1978's More Songs About Buildings And Food. Over the years, they have collaborated on a handful of other Talking Heads records, made one legendary album that pioneered the art of sampling (at the time of release, in 1980, Byrne explained this was called "found sound...which is misleading since we spent a lot of time looking for those sounds"), and, most recently, recorded an album of what Eno dubbed "electronic gospel music", Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. What made this tour so special is that Byrne's reasoning for doing it is two-fold: 1) He gets to support that aforementioned electronic gospel record, and 2) It's a chance to celebrate one of the more fruitful and groundbreaking artistic relationships of the last 50 years. Though he's far too modest to say so himself, it's also a fine opportunity to show off how well he has aged as a performer.
"Some of these beats are 20 years old," Byrne sang in opener "Strange Overtones". As his set unfolded, this turned out to be true. But many beats were even older as Byrne and his robust, propulsive band dipped into the Talking Heads' catalog with "I Zimbra", "Artists Only", and "Once In A Lifetime", to name a few. As a friend mentioned to me before the show, Byrne no longer plays the twitchy paranoid he was once famous for. Instead he has mellowed, which has not only made him more palatable, but also more powerful as a singer. Where the clattery Afro-funk once served as a platform for Byrne to get in touch with his inner neurotic, he now sounds confident and relaxed, his vocals full and soaring.
Of course, he still dances like a white nerd. But where this dancing was once ironic, its now more charming. Though Byrne proudly subscribes to the Elaine Benes school of awkward dance theory, he nonetheless compensated--for this tour he hired three professional dancers to join him onstage. Impeccably choreographed, the three (one dude, two ladies) aped Byrne's patented robot moves and riffed on that theme, whirling about the stage in a tight-wound-yet-jazz-like manner.
Byrne has long been a master of sensory overload and last night's show was no exception: The songs, the wardrobe, the lights, the dancers' flailing limbs. And after 2 hours, Byrne still had more left to give, as well as a trick up his sleeve. As the audience stood in ovation after the first encore (can't read my notes, but I'm certain it was "Take Me To The River" and "Feel My Stuff") he announced: "There's more!" Instructing us to turn our attention to the back of the room, he introduced San Francisco's Extra Action Marching Band, which was playing the Comet later that night. The legendary troupe marched flamboyantly down the aisles, waving flags and shaking pom-poms, blaring their brand of punk-rock-meets-gay-pride-meets-John-Phillips-Sousa insanity.
It was a fine capper for what Byrne fans already know to be fact: The man does not put on mere a rock concert--he puts on a show.