By Iain Shedden
David Byrne has, throughout his career, presented ample opportunity and inspiration for people to dance. The Sydney Opera House Concert Hall has rarely boasted such a thing. It intimidates feet with its ornateness as much as it abhors decibels beyond a certain level.
And so this menage a trois of performer, venue and punter endured extensive uneasy foreplay before the night emerged as an exhilarating triumph.
Byrne, mastermind of Talking Heads and a solo career that has involved numerous collaborations and musical styles, is here on the back of his latest CD, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.
The album, written and performed with Brian Eno, is a sprightly pop celebration and the musos' reunion has led to Byrne's stage tribute to the work the pair has done together over the past 30 years.
That meant we heard material from their groundbreaking 1981 album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts as well as tracks from the new album and highlights from the Talking Heads' More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978), Fear of Music (1979) and Remain in Light (1980), which Eno produced.
It's a show as much for the eyes as the ears, with Byrne and his 10 collaborators, including a four-piece band, three singers and three dancers, dressed in white and often working the songs with highly original choreographed routines.
The imposing, gospel-tinged Help Me Somebody from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was startling in its theatricality as well as its musicianship, with Byrne delivering the sermon as potently as the preacher sampled on the original recording. He topped and tailed the show with new tracks Strange Overdose and Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, but the folkie hymn One Fine Day from the latest album provided the most striking contrast to the funkfest that dominated most of the set.
It was this unleashing of Byrne's dance credentials that finally convinced the concert hall crowd to stretch their legs, in particular to the Heads' Once in a Lifetime, Life After Wartime and their take on Al Green's Take Me To the River.
Throughout, Byrne -- now white-haired but otherwise a youthful presence -- cajoled, shimmied, directed and commanded attention, with a voice by turns soulful, sweet and threatening.
By the time he reached another Talking Heads classic, Burning Down the House -- a short but nonetheless welcome diversion from the Byrne-Eno brief -- not a bum was on seat. And rightly so.