If you’re like me you have to constantly make the tough decisions; you want to see ten bands but the budget only allows for one or two. So when shows come up you spend a bit of time deciding if this is the one. But every so often there is no hesitation; you see it and buy, right away, while the seat selection is still good. Well that was the case for me when I became aware of the David Byrne tour. And if that decision wasn’t easy enough, it became a total no-brainer because of the venue; the Ryman Auditorium.
The tour is called “Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno”. Byrne is supporting their new download (soon to be CD), Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, so several of the new songs were performed, and they are good. But the two have other collaborations from the past, including three Talking Heads classic albums, so there was no shortage of the familiar. What became evident early on in the show was that the older material is still fresh and energetic today, a testament to how innovative Byrne’s music was thirty years ago.
After receiving lengthy, thunderous applause just for coming onstage, the band, all decked out in white, started with a new song, “Strange Overtones”, one of my favorites on the new download. Wasting no time, Byrne started up the Heads classic “I Zimbra”. By the way, did I mention the dancers yet? Lily Baldwin, Natalie Kuhn, and Steven Reker perform some energetic, interesting, but not necessarily sophisticated choreography to about half of the songs in the 2 hour set. I think the emphasis here was on fun rather than art, and combined with the relentless and ever-prominent percussion by Mauro Refosco and drummer Graham Hawthorne, it was hard to stay in your seat after awhile. All these elements combined into a concert that ran like a fine-tuned engine with all the cylinders pumping; sound, world music rhythm, visuals, and energy, with a little passion thrown in for good measure.
The show really picked up about midway through with Byrne slowing things down with “Heaven”. From that point on it was a gradual build up with Talking Heads classics and new songs mixed in. “Home”, from the new album, with its’ slow tempo but amazing percussion was next, followed by “The River”, another new one. Here’s where it got really interesting. “Cross Eyed and Painless”, “Life is Long” (another catchy new song with a great beat), “Once in a Lifetime” (the crowd was now up for good), and “Life During Wartime” followed, working the crowd into a mini-frenzy. Byrne then ended the main set with “I Feel My Stuff”, another favorite of mine off the new download that slowed things down a bit to start but had a nice build up, eventually unfolding into some blistering guitar preceding a big ending. The crowd was up and roaring, and the band stood there a good long while, taking it all in appreciatively.
While the band took their mini-break backstage, the audience was giving them the traditional Ryman salute, banging the pews of the “Church of Country Music” and stomping their feet on the wooden floors. The band finally came out and did a soulful “Take Me to the River” and “The Great Curve” from “Remain in Light”. After another break and another Ryman salute from the audience, Byrne ended things on a slow note with the dreamy “Everything That Happens” off the new download. And as happens every so often at The Ryman, the artist surprised the crowd with some songs I am sure no other audiences will hear on this tour. He did two apparently classic country tunes on acoustic guitar which, because I am somewhat country-illiterate, I couldn’t tell you what they were. Funny thing was Byrne seemed to think a Ryman audience would know them well, but judging by the lack of people singing along, which was Byrne’s intention, I certainly was not alone.
Byrne’s band also included three excellent back-up singers who sometimes participated in the choreography, plus a bass player and keyboardist. And Mr. Reker, the dancer, also picked up an acoustic guitar for a song. And Byrne did his part as well with the choreography, moving around in unison with the dancers in several numbers. This was a talented ensemble.
We all left the place smiling. Bad news is if you weren’t there you missed it. Good news is you have another chance; he’s playing in Louisville in October (or nationwide, if you’re travelling). If you’re a Byrne/Talking Heads fan go get these tickets right now.