By Geoff Gehman
David Byrne opened his tour on Tuesday night in Lehigh University's Zoellner Arts Center with a relentlessly entertaining, enlightening broadcast from outer and inner space.
Joined by seven terrifically funky musicians, the former Talking Head began a concert of his Brian Eno collaborations with "Strange Overtones," a bubbling, banking number from "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today," their new record of electronic gospel. It dovetailed with the sparkling, spanking jungle fever of "Help Me Somebody," a track from "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts," their pioneer 1981 experiment with other-worldly samples of worldly sounds.
Dressed in vanilla gas-station/safari outfits, Byrne and his comrades shifted smoothly from canny optimism to uncanny fatalism. "Home," a new tune, was a sweet, sneakily alien view of a tainted sanctuary, "where the bodies are touching and the cameras are watching." "I Feel My Stuff," another new number, was a gradually infectious suite of thundering chant, glorious go-go rock and a slightly menacing rap seemingly inspired by Orwell's "1984." Between the poles was a third new song, "The River," a rather stilted view of Hurricane Katrina victims with a soupy soundscape and a clipped calypso beat.
As usual, Byrne was a hypnotic vocal chameleon. His special effects ranged from an eerily stinging croon to a demented-preacher whoop. As usual, his body was a gyrating bean pole. His trademark moves ranged from knee wags to half-zombie slides.
Three dancers, also costumed in white, performed modern ballet and prairie hootenany. They leapfrogged, hoedowned and rag dolled as if choreographed by Twyla Tharp, Byrne's creative partner for "The Catherine Wheel." During "Heaven" they strolled behind a scrim, pressed against the fabric like ghosts. They joined Byrne in chairs during "Life Is Long"; their swiveling deftly illustrated a song about the importance of studied relaxation.
Surprises included a standing ovation after the fifth tune. Byrne laughed at the sold-out crowd's premature rapture. Disappointments included a lumbering, repetitious "Heaven" — it could be called "Home, the Prequel" — and a hollow, tinny "Once in a Lifetime," although Byrne neatly imitated Boris Karloff during his spiel of surreal scenarios and the playout was gloriously furious.
The band encored with a strangely grounded, white-gospel "Take Me to the River" and a nicely rumbling, humid "The Great Curve." The finale, "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today," was a beautiful underwater moonlit lullaby, a spiritual sorbet.