Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne began his concert at the Fox Theatre Saturday night by, well, talking.
“Welcome to the Fabulous Fox,” he said, musing that the venerable venue “comes with its own adjective.”
Byrne gave a brief preview of the show, noting its purpose was to survey his work over the years with musician/producer/pop theoretician Brian Eno. Their oeuvre includes the most jarring and forward-looking Talking Heads albums as well as two collaborations as a duo; 1981’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and the brand new Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.
The reclusive Eno’s actual presence onstage would have made the occasion historic, but Byrne’s imaginative presentation allowed for no sense that the audience was settling for something less.
Along with his four-piece band, plus three singers and three dancers, Byrne was attired from head-to-toe in white. The cast’s appearance, whether intended to make them seem as angels or ice cream truck drivers, was calmly assuring, even as the music cataloged life’s absurdities and quotidian disasters.
New songs, such as “Strange Overtones,” “One Fine Day” and “Life Is Long,” were pleasing, if less sonically dense and polyrhythmically perverse than Talking Heads classics “I Zimbra,” “Crosseyed and Painless” and “Once in a Lifetime.”
The unadorned stage left the group with plenty of room to roam. During “I Zimbra,” Byrne weaved backwards through microphone stands rearranged by the dancers, who then extended them to the backup singers, reclining on the stage. Such whimsy mixed with other routines that were by turns artful, sexy and acrobatic.
Introducing “Help Me Somebody” from Bush of Ghosts, Byrne mentioned that album’s use of found sounds, which today are called samples, subtly making the point that he and Eno were ahead of their time and technology. Indeed, it was striking to note that songs that once seemed outré in the extreme, like “Houses in Motion” and “The Great Curve,” contain sounds that are now woven comfortably into the fabric of popular music.
As the show wound to its climax with “Life During Wartime,” Talking Heads’ reworking of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River,” and “Burning Down the House,” it underlined that’s Byrne’s gift, whether prodded by Eno’s genius or not, is in satisfying his audience’s expectations and challenging them at the same time.