Thursday, 3 September 2009

A night with David Byrne

Much belated, and further to an earlier post, I caught a David Byrne concert last month in Southampton's Guildhall.

Though I've loved the music of Talking Heads for years (well, decades), they've been defunct for almost the whole time; split into David Byrne and everyone else. As reconciliation seems extremely unlikely, at least judging from press items, seeing Byrne solo seemed to afford the best chance of catching some of my favourite songs.

Though Talking Heads have been out of commission since the early 1990s, Byrne has kept himself pretty busy with his own solo work plus a series of art and film/theatre projects. He's also continued to tour intermittently, and his current tour is centred around his joint album with Brian Eno, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. Eno is absent on the tour, and instead Byrne is touring with a small company (about 11 in total) of musicians, singers and dancers. The latter initially provoked confusion / consternation when they appeared on stage, but by the end they seemed a natural part of the show.

Anyhow, perhaps not surprisingly, Byrne played a mix of his own material and that of Talking Heads, with the latter occurring later in the show. Also not surprisingly, the Talking Heads material was much better received by the audience (of which my friend AM and I were easily in the lower quartile in demographic terms). His own material was pretty good, primarily in the "world music" genre, but unfortunately for Byrne, his Talking Heads back-catalogue just has too many hits in it. His own stuff, unless spectacular, is always going to come off as slightly inferior (though I do write as a Talking Heads fan). I have to say that it was pretty upbeat and danceable (not that I really "got down"; unlike a seemingly stiff suit in front of us who really did). Just not as evocative (or from-my-past?) as the Talking Heads material. Though I didn't get the songs I'd hoped for, it was quite a thrill hearing the opening bars of the likes of Once in a Lifetime and Road to Nowhere. Perhaps it's just because I'm a climate-related scientist, but I love the apocalyptic undercurrents of the latter song.

As for the performance, Byrne wasn't the most talkative of hosts, but he was pretty wry at times, and his enthusiasm was infectious. I particularly liked his choice of white tutus to finish the evening off - the sight of the whole troupe in those was pretty cool. Byrne's backing group were up to the job and, far from being the anonymous musicians that I originally took them to be, they're all pretty accomplished judging from their web bios. I've already made a mention of the dancers, but they're worth another one. When they first appeared (two women and a man) they just seemed a distraction to offset an otherwise plain set of props, but as things went on made a lot of the material. And one of them even did a bit of crowd surfing at the end, in defiance of the venue's prohibitions on the subject. The acoustics of the venue seemed a bit ropey at first, but I got used to them as the evening wore on. Or perhaps, as evidenced by the next morning, my hearing was just gradually impaired in a beneficial way during the concert? Probably as good as one can expect from a dusty old civic centre venue.

Anyhow, it was a pretty good night out. Great to finally see, in the flesh, someone I've listened to for years and years. Especially as Byrne made the evening so much fun - even after four (yes, count them) encores. And, as ever, it was a joy to be reacquainted with songs my iPod (with its ~7000 tracks) only occasionally shuffles to the top.

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