David Byrne, accompanied by St. Vincent,
re-establish music as art
Usually the mention of choreography isn’t what makes something a “must-see” in regards to live music.
However, certain artists and their music lend themselves to larger-than-life spectacle – case in point being David Byrne. On tour with singer/guitarist Annie Clark (ne, St. Vincent), the two mesmerized their sold-out Arlene Schnitzer Hall audience with music from their recent collaboration, Love This Giant, while mixing in a handful of Talking Heads classics, as well as material from Ms. Clark’s 3-album catalog.
The music – and musicianship – was stellar…the marquee artists supported by a 10 piece orchestra (including, at any given time, trumpets, trombones, flugelhorns, flutes, french horns…). This helped take the solid studio-craft of Love This Giant to a superior level – making one feel that the record was simply an excuse to get incredible musicians together to wow audiences live. And it worked, in spades.
Starting with punchy and solid new track “Who”, it was apparent immediately that not only could these folks PLAY their instruments, but that the audience was in for a treat of bodies synchronized in an organized – if not tongue-in-cheek – manner. The musicians were clearly having fun, while bringing a sort-of “Bourbon Street-meets-the-Brooklyn-Bridge” cultural framework to the songs.
But this was no gimmick. The brass and woodwinds not only accentuated the craft of the new material, but fleshed out everything from St. Vincent tunes (like their stunning take on “The Party”, which I suspect never sounded better) to some Byrne solo work (“Strange Overtones”, from a recent collaboration with Brian Eno) to – OF COURSE! – some Talking Heads classics (“This Must Be the Place”, “Road to Nowhere” and – particularly – “Burning Down the House” would sound flat after this line-up’s renditions). But perhaps the strangest, and most subtle, sonic beneficiary was a piece performed for the band’s third encore, “Open the Kingdom” (which, according to Byrne, hadn’t been performed until this evening); it’s a composition by Philip Glass that Byrne – at Glass’ request – contributed vocals/lyrics to. Simply stunning, if not an abrupt, change in direction.
I’d like to think that in an age of homogenization, this was their special nod to Portland. Ms. Clark has been in a couple of skits on Portlandia (modeling police “fashion”, and as a cop), and Mr. Byrne has been in town to promote his literary craft, as is the case this time through.
Unfortunately, I am not part of the other sold-out audience Mr. Byrne will see in Portland this week; he’ll discuss his new book, How Music Works, with Portland’s contribution to music/performance art, Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney, Portlandia) tonight at the Baghdad Theater.