By Jeff Spevak
Now that David Byrne's head has evolved into a beautiful ground cover of silver-gray, there's something in his intelligent eyes that reminds me of the filmmaker David Lynch. Both seem obsessed with the idea of something not quite right in the well-manicured neighborhoods of middle America. Except, with Lynch, you feel the need to check the trunk for dead bodies. Byrne? You can dance to his malevolence.
But if you make love to Byrne's music, you are a robot. He deals with disconnectedness and the alien landscape of loneliness, from his days with the Talking Heads straight through Tuesday's show at Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center, a celebration of his many collaborations with wired-music maven Brian Eno.
It was a surprisingly small crowd for opening night at CMAC. Three thousand, maybe. But the last few times Byrne played the area, it was at Water Street Music Hall, so look at the move up as tripling his audience.
It should have been thousands more, if God weren't mysteriously in cahoots with Miley Cyrus. The night was brilliant, from the opening "Strange Overtones," which you could file Byrne's music under. Wearing a white suit and white electric guitar, Byrne headed a multitasking, 10-piece group of musicians, backing singers and dancers, all dressed in white as well. And all exuding a smiling, upbeat demeanor. It was like encountering a cheerful cult at the airport.
The techno of the most-recent Byrne-Eno collaboration, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, led beautifully into elder pieces such as "Once in a Lifetime," the spookily tribal "Burning Down the House," performed with the band wearing tutus, and "Take Me to the River." The bigness of the ideas and the subtle humor — dancer Steven Reker vaulting over Byrne's head — made the night a visual treat without cliché. Surely these shows will be taped and follow the Talking Heads' acclaimed concert film, Stop Making Sense.
Opener Ani DiFranco was her usual Unsinkable Molly Brown of anti-folk, resonating particularly powerfully on a new song, "Nov. 4, 2008." The lines, "President Obama, it's an honor just to say it," drew cheers. "I used to hide my passport, now I'm proud to display it." She followed with a chorus of the familiar "Yes we can, yes we can, yes we can," as a reminder, yes we did, yes we did.