By Scott Mervis
It used to be asked of David Byrne: "Why the BIG suit?"
Last night, he showed up at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland in whites so bright, you almost had to wear shades. Safe to say, though, no skinny white guy with white hair ever rocked so joyously in Wimbledon whites.
The occasion was The Music of Byrne and Eno, with Brian Eno only there in the spirit of his funky beats and production. The repertoire consisted of Eno-related Talking Heads material and a new album, "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today," on sale as a physical product for the first time last night.
None of it came with the weirdness of "Help Me Somebody," from the previous Byrne-Eno project "My Life in the Bush of the Ghosts." The new songs — like "Strange Overtones," "One Fine Day" and "Life is Long" — were surprisingly accessible, with midtempo beats delivered with gusto from Byrne, who's rarely sounded better. The only rocker in that bunch was the set-closing "I Feel My Stuff," a throwback to the churning days of "Remain in Light."
Rather than fill the stage with musicians, as Talking Heads did back in the early '80s, Byrne was backed by a spare four pieces, plus three soulful backup singers and three dancers who were more Manhattan quirky than nouveau Britney. They added smile-inducing life to the stage, sometimes pulling Byrne into their fray, other times making him hilariously dodge their advances.
The tension early on, especially with familiar songs like "I Zimbra" and "Houses in Motion," was whether to sit or dance. That went by the wayside when Byrne hit a run of beloved Talking Heads songs that "burned down" the house.
Byrne was on his game throughout, good thing because the band, well, could have kicked it harder. Where was the chest-thumping bass on "Once in a Lifetime"? Why wasn't the percussionist taking names on "Cross-Eyed and Painless"? Why didn't "Life During Wartime" feel as urgent as life...during wartime?
Byrne could have loaded the van with more powerful weapons, but it was a brilliant, joyful evening nonetheless.