Photo by Jody Rogac
By William Kennedy
"I dance like this / Because it feels so damn good” sings David Byrne on “I Dance Like This,” from his 2018 release American Utopia. “If we could dance better,” he continues, “well, you know that we would.”
Byrne’s creative output seems nowhere near slowing down, but it’s hard to imagine a better postscript for his career. Whether it’s leading the pioneering post-punk band Talking Heads, his successful solo work or, now, taking on the role of author and social critic, Byrne’s only ever been himself: hyper-smart, neurotic, charmingly aloof and ceaselessly creative.
Lawrence Orleck leads Portland Talking Heads tribute act Life During Wartime. Orleck says it’s hard to think of another artist’s work so tailor-made for reinterpretation. Byrne’s music, Orleck says, “is so free and open,” providing a “great bed for storytelling and dancing.”
From his days with the Heads, Byrne’s been a stylistic polymath, from punk, Afro beat and world music, Orleck says, to calypso, reggae, rock, alternative and funk, to name a few genres.
In September, Life During Wartime returns to Eugene, recreating the legendary Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, with original music from Life During Wartime, live at the WOW Hall.
For me, Byrne’s always been a little better in collaboration, with his old band, Brian Eno or St. Vincent. Something about the give and take of that process forces Byrne down out of his own head and back into his hips.
But American Utopia is a nice return to form for the singer, who definitely has current events on his mind. “Gasoline and dirty sheets,” he sings on the song of the same name. “Politics and a painted face / She says that freedom cost too much / She says the mind is not a place.”
Orleck points out that Byrne’s always been topical. “Our president’s crazy. Did you hear what he said?” Orleck quotes from classic Heads tune “Making Flippy Floppy.”
Elsewhere on Utopia, Byrne’s trademark social anxiety positively sweats through his suit coat on “Everybody’s Coming to My House.” For the current tour, Byrne promises an elaborately planned stage show with, of course, dancing.
And, however Byrne dances, I’m sure it’ll feel good to see him again.
David Byrne plays 8 pm Monday, May 28, at the Hult Center; SOLD OUT. Talking Heads tribute band Life During Wartime performs June 16 at Hi-Fi Music Lounge; $12 adv., $15 door. 21 plus.