Thursday, November 13, 2008

Spoliler warning! Review of David Byrne live at the Egg in Albany last Wednesday

Don't read this if you'd rather be surprised at the David Byrne show at the Calvin on Tuesday December 2nd. I'm sure the show won't be exactly the same of course but I'm just sayin'. Me, I don't even like to watch a movie previews. (Courtesy Metroland Online)

Ain’t No Foolin’ Around- David Byrne at The Egg in Albany, Nov. 5th. By David Greenberger

Over the course of more than 30 years, David Byrne has managed a rare feat. He has succeeded in the popular music marketplace but has not been trapped by it, maintaining his stance as an artist. His latest tour finds him playing venues that, for the most part, are smaller than what he could fill, but that allow him to maintain tighter control over the sound and present his 11-piece troupe on worthy stages.

Last week’s concert at the Egg was the night after the election, an event Byrne acknowledged with his opening words, “I woke up this morning to a different America.” This was met by cheers from the sold-out crowd, as further comments revealed that he and his international band had been receiving happy and congratulatory e-mails from friends and family around the world.

The concert was titled “Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno,” and it opened with “Strange Overtones,” from the new Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. It’s a testament to the clearly delineated sound mix, and to the smart pacing of the set, that eight songs from the new collaborative album with Eno were performed, especially since the album is currently available only as a download, and will not be released as a physical CD until later this month.

With the second number, the full cast was assembled across the stage when the tour’s three dancers emerged to the opening notes of “I Zimbra.” Byrne on guitar was part of a five-piece band (keyboardist, bassist, drummer, percussionist). Three singers stood to his right, adding percussion and occasional acoustic guitar. And everyone was dressed in white—not matching outfits, but the varied possibilities of white clothing.

Given the evening’s theme, all of the dozen and a half selections were from works in which Eno participated. Besides the new release, these songs first appeared on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, The Catherine Wheel and the three Talking Heads albums Eno produced (More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music and Remain in Light).

The varied crowd was a mix of well-heeled professionals and purposefully casual hipsters. The main thing most appeared to have in common with each other, as well as with Byrne, was having been born in the ‘50s. Beyond that, there were significant differences, largely in the realm of art vs. nostalgia. Two-thirds of the way into concert, audience members were encouraged to their feet, and unfortunately they remained standing for the rest of the night. I could see some in attendance re-creating Byrne moves from 20 years ago, most notably his hitting-myself-in-the-forehead from “Once in a Lifetime” and seen in the film Stop Making Sense.

This is where Byrne the artist comes into focus. He is more about reconsidering, reinventing and reinterpreting than simply re-creating. As he sang in “Psycho Killer,” “Say something once, why say it again?” Byrne is an artist, but he also understands the dynamics of showmanship. From the beginning he’s known to surround his tentative manner and slight physique with funky rhythms and theatrical flair. Every aspect of this current tour is perfectly considered and executed. The showman in him made sure it was an unforgettable night, while the artist elevated it to an even more potent level, because the next time he comes back he’ll do something different.

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