By Joe Gross
No matter what he's playing, writing, composing, programming or singing, David Byrne always lets you know he's thinking things through.
Thursday night at the Paramount Theatre, in what proved a fantastic kick-off to the Austin City Limits Music Festival weekend, Byrne and everyone in his band came on stage wearing all white...white trousers, white shirts of varying styles. Three backup dancers (and three backup singers) added motion and form to the sharply funky songs, drawn entirely from the music Byrne made with producer Brian Eno on such rock touchstones as "Remain in Light" and "Fear of Music" and the new Byrne/Eno collaboration "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today." The deft five-piece band breathed new life into old material and sold the heck out of the new stuff, cranking out stripped-down versions of decades-old crowd-pleasers such as "Once in a Lifetime," "Crosseyed and Painless," the gorgeous "Heaven" and "I Zimbra."
Though Eno was not present, his keyboard parts couldn't have been written by anyone but him, their cloudy drone distinctive as a fingerprint. Byrne, all of 56 and playing all the guitar parts himself, sometimes joined the dancers' routines. He also hasn't lost a note of his singular voice...it was faintly startling how good he sounded. And it was smart to blend the new material with the old. Set opener "Strange Overtones," "One Fine Day" and "My Big Nurse" fit seamlessly in with the songs everyone knew.
While simple politeness kept folks (on the floor, at least) in their seats though most of the set, it's physically impossible not to move to Byrne's music, yet be moved by the almost Zen sense of wonder that runs though his lyrics, an admixture that legions of imitators have failed to capture. By the time a woman in the crowd yelled, "I want to dance," more to her fellow fans than the band, the dam willfully burst and fans spilled into the aisle for "Crosseyed and Painless," remaining there for the rest of the set. Thank goodness.