By Jme White, Denver Post, 14 October 2008 [Link]
So many mediums have the luxury of being individual productions. Painting, sculpture, photography etc. can all be created by a single person obsessing for as long as he/she wants towards a self-defined goal. Recorded music’s greatest challenge, however, is collaboration. The best recordings have always come from brilliant minds learning to leave space for other brilliant minds to step in.
Brian Eno has been stepping in that space for over 30 years now. More of a co-conspirator than a producer, Eno has been the fifth Beatle for the likes of Roxy Music, David Bowie, Devo, U2 and theTalking Heads.
As former front man for the Talking Heads and a prolific solo artist, David Byrne has been creating that space for just as long. Safe and pure in his melodies, dark in his lyrics, he is always sincere and slightly absurd.
But their most memorable works each have come when they’ve worked together. Somewhere within their three Talking Heads albums and the groundbreaking tape loops and found-sound vocals of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, David Byrne and Brian Eno discovered how avant-garde recording techniques blended with rhythms from around the globe can create a listener-friendly fashion of smart-rock just weird enough to sound new without being so strange as to sound weird.
On Sunday, Denver was treated to Byrne’s tribute to this collaboration live at the Buell Theatre. After a five minute standing/shouting ovation as Byrne took the stage, he and his ten-person cast, dressed from shirt to shoes in white, began a seamless mesh of old classic tracks and songs from the new Eno/Byrne collaboration, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.
Starting with “Strange Overtones” from that album, Byrne established the show with his lyric, “This groove is out of fashion. These beats are 20 years old,” immediately and ironically followed with the timeless African rhythms of “I Zimbra” from 1979’s Fear of Music.
The whole place got hopping. Security did their best to keep the audience from crowding the aisles with dancing, but could not stop the balconies from shaking with arm-waving stomps and hollers. We happily skipped from convincingly strong new tunes like “One Fine Day” into commonly loved radio hits like “Once in a Lifetime.” Even deeper cuts like “My Big Hands (Fall Through the Cracks)” from Byrne’s work with choreographer Twyla Tharp on the Catherine Wheel kept the crowd bobbing through the more intimate numbers like “Heaven” (from Fear of Music).
By night’s end, the capacity audience got everything it wanted. Byrne’s ageless voice sold us the new songs while his amorphous crew delivered his danceable standards like “Crosseyed and Painless,” “Take me to the River” and the one non-Eno Heads’ tune of the evening, “Burning Down the House.”
The band was incredible throughout. Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco accented the more traditional drumming of Graham Hawthorne while three backup singers created an almost gospel feel to Eno’s electronic music. The introduction of three modern dancers kept the entire show bouncing from one side of the stage to the other with choreography that was precise and made to seem casual right down to the dancers’ eye contact with each other and smiles. And nobody’s role was rigid.
The singers joined in with the dancing. One of the dancers played guitar. Byrne himself several times stepped back into the organized chaos, singing and twisting while playing the lone electric guitar of the evening. With his white hair, white teeth, white polo, denim and patent leather shoes, he was a bleached televangelist who created such a community among his players the audience couldn’t resist getting involved.
We walked out inspired, like we’d just attended a small-town-Texas Black Baptist church service. Only tonight it was art-rock’s father, electronica’s son, and a whole bushel of ghosts.