Jeffrey Lee Puckett
To look at him, you would never think that David Byrne is a stone-cold rhythm machine, what with his gray hair and eccentric, professorial demeanor. When he took the stage last night at the Louisville Palace, dressed entirely in white and giving a halting thesis about the show we were about to see, Byrne seemed almost timid.
That changed with the first downstroke of “Strange Overtones” and rarely faltered through the raging conclusion of “Burning Down the House.” Byrne was a James Brown carved out of ivory and animated by nervous tics, leading a relentless band through a series of relentless songs, and he earned a sustained, almost ecstatic ovation.
The show was all about motion, in the music and on the stage.
Most songs were built on the polyrhythms of Afropop, expanding the sound Byrne created with Talking Heads and creating huge grooves that seemed effortless, almost weightless. Three dancers played a major role, another common aspect of live African music, and were occasionally joined by Byrne and three back-up singers.
It was almost an interactive live art installation as the dancers roamed the stage with choreography that carefully mimicked chaos, crossing in front of Byrne, catching him in a trust fall and once breaking the fourth wall to teach the singers how to dance.
Byrne’s dancing was completely charming; he sometimes looked as if he were being controlled by a puppeteer with palsy, but would suddenly bust a supremely graceful move.
The show was based on past and present collaborations between Byrne and musician/producer Brian Eno, with several songs from the new album, “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.” They were hit and miss, ranging from the very strong (“One Fine Day,” “Strange Overtones”) to the mediocre (“Life is Long,” “The River”).
Not surprisingly, it was the Talking Heads songs that went over best, and with good reason. “Houses In Motion,” “Life During Wartime,” “Once In A Lifetime” and “Burning Down the House” were all less sterile than the original versions, with an aggressive, even ferocious, edge. “Burning Down the House” was particularly thrilling and had the crowd wired.
“Consider it burnt,” a friend said, which is as accurate and succint a review as you’ll find.