David Byrne review: A once-in-a-lifetime performance
By George Palathingal
ICC Theatre, Darling Harbour, November 20
It shouldn't have come as a surprise.
There has always been far more to David Byrne than your average art-rock cult hero but, on this night, the erstwhile Talking Heads frontman surpassed expectations.
This was about as complete a performance as you could hope for: musically, visually, conceptually.
It started with the Scottish-born New Yorker sitting alone at a table holding a model of a brain and nasally crooning what its various areas do on Here, from this year's American Utopia album.
Then a couple of backing singers, who also turned out to be terrific dancers, joined him. By the next song, the nine other musicians of his "floating band" had emerged through the curtains surrounding the stage, literally bringing with them luscious bass, blissful keyboard melodies, guitar alternately funky and rocking, and more vibrant percussion than you could shake a drumstick at.
They combined, almost flawlessly, to take us back through some of Byrne's most memorable adventures over his near-50-year career. Each song was a choreographed performance that used little more than lighting, movement and exquisite playing to further dazzle us when it came to the superior tunes, and perhaps distract us from those less attractive (I Dance Like This won't be appearing on a solo best-of any time ever. And while it feels mean to point fingers at that song, there isn't much else to call out here).
A selection of Byrne's finest collaborations made appearances, from the ominous minimal throb of I Should Watch TV (from Love This Giant, his 2012 album with St Vincent) to the spry and colourful Toe Jam, written with Norman "Fatboy Slim" Cook. Strong solo-era material for the most part came from American Utopia but 2001's Like Humans Do also delighted with its dreamy whimsy.
But it was the carefully chosen new-wave/post-punk funk from the Talking Heads canon that people who saw this tour will be telling those who missed it about for years to come.
A gorgeous This Must Be the Place enveloped us in its warmth then somehow got the room dancing, too. Demonstrating that the dozen onstage performed every sound we heard live, by building it instrument by instrument, Born Under Punches (still a masterpiece of claustrophobic funk) provided perhaps the best band intro ever.
The hypnotic march of Road to Nowhere grew exuberantly as it gathered steam.
And Once in a Lifetime not only provided the perfect, joyous moment you hoped it would, its title neatly summed up the experience this show gave.