By Sarah Rodman
For most people, having dinner with an old friend is a nostalgic experience. But, as they have proved time and again, David Byrne and Brian Eno are not most people. A dinnertime chat between the two musicians in London a few years back resulted in a record, "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today," that bears only a slight resemblance to their past collaborations.
Byrne, former lead singer of Talking Heads, and Eno, acclaimed member of Roxy Music, solo artist, and producer of a coterie of acts including U2, first joined forces for "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts" in 1981. When that album, an influential proto-mashup/sound collage effort, was rereleased in 2006, the pair reconnected to work on new artwork and Internet issues.
"That experience reminded us that we see eye to eye on most stuff," Byrne says by phone from a Cleveland tour stop. "We get along really well and enjoy each other's company, so I think that helped us see, 'Yeah, we haven't worked together in a while, maybe we can do something.' "
That something turned into "Everything," which is available as a digital download from the pair's website and will get a physical release Nov. 25. The finished product comes as a slight shock to Byrne, who brings its music - plus that of other Byrne/Eno collaborations, including material from the three Talking Heads albums Eno produced - to the Citi Wang Theatre tonight.
"I had a lot of trepidations starting off, which I suspect Brian did as well," says Byrne, who, working in New York, added melodies and lyrics to musical tracks created by Eno in London. "I waited a long time before I dipped my toe in the water. I was very wary because it carries a fair amount of baggage. People might've been expecting 'Bush of Ghosts II,' and I thought, 'I don't want to do that, I don't think Brian wants to do that, and we don't want it to sound exactly like either of our own records either.' So it had to find its own place, that was something new for both of us. But after doing maybe two or three songs we were pretty thrilled, so we just kept going with it. It was exciting. We could see that it was going somewhere neither of us would've gone by ourselves."
The biggest surprise about "Everything" may be how conventional it is in terms of pop craftsmanship - although that structure is upended in places. The pair have characterized it as "electronic gospel," but that can mean many things, Byrne says. In this case it encompasses both the menacing ambient twitch of "I Feel My Stuff" and the jaunty Southern soul of "Life Is Long." Byrne conjures melodies that meander but never lose their tunefulness, and there's a sense of uplift even as an undercurrent of melancholy threads its way through the album like a shiver up the spine.
While that wasn't his agenda, Byrne acknowledges that dual sense of dread and delight. "You can sense the optimism and hope in the melody and the vocal tone, which is something music can do; it can give you two different, almost conflicting things at the same time."
The energy and angles of several tracks, including the title song, which features a gorgeous choir of multi-tracked Byrnes, should blossom even further in a live setting. But Byrne wouldn't let himself think about the stage while he was working because he knew he'd need a sizable band to re-create the sounds. "I had to do the arithmetic and figure it out before I could allow myself the pleasure of saying, 'That's going to sound really nice,' " he says with a laugh.
Byrne is also incorporating modern dance into the show, performed by a trio of dancers, members of the band, and Byrne himself.
That willingness to explore other art forms has always been part of Byrne's DNA. He has stretched into everything from performance art to fine art to publishing, which impresses Noemie Lafrance, artistic director of experimental arts organization Sens in New York and one of Byrne's three tour choreographers.
"He was especially really open to doing strange things," says Lafrance, such as throwing himself into head-bobbing, foot-tapping, arm-flailing moves for "I Feel My Stuff." "I think his movement vocabulary is very innovative and very unique. It's inspiring for me and for the other choreographers to also take from him and mix it all up."
When Byrne, who tried unsuccessfully to coax Eno out on the road, is asked if it will take the pair another 27 years for their next album, he laughs: "Oh my God, who knows? We still have some other stuff we can work on, I think. We'll see what happens."