By Curtis Ross
TAMPA - David Byrne opened his concert Friday night at the Tampa Theatre with a low-key explanation of the performance: "It's a set menu. No substitutions. I'll be your waiter. My name's Dave."
The show spotlighted music Byrne has made oft-times with collaborator Brian Eno, much of it from this year's "Everything that Happens Will Happen Today." Much of it was choreographed. If that sounds a little formal - a recital with ballet, perhaps - it was anything but.
Byrne's rock may be art, but it's never arch. If something about it makes you laugh, that's probably intentional. And the show, before a crowd of 1,325, was art - funny, sexy, joyous art.
Clad all in white, Byrne, his four-piece band, three dancers and three singer-dancers put new spins on old material, brought different dimensions and proved conclusively that art and entertainment can be bosom buddies.
The trio of dancers first took the stage on the second number, "I Zimbra." Their routines sometimes seemed to draw on Byrne's gawky moves in early Talking Heads' videos - African dance choreographed by George Romero, perhaps. But they were unfailingly graceful and athletic, whether performing seated in office chairs or leaping over the frontman's head.
Their excellence was matched by the band. "One Fine Day" was built upon a bass groove so deep and cushiony you could have slept in it. Drums and percussion played call and response on "The Great Curve" while keyboards added texture and color throughout.
Byrne himself has become a consummate, if highly original frontman, and his guitar playing, whether rhythmic funk or whammy-bar excursions far more interesting than your typical Eddie Van Halen wannabe's, was first-rate.
He played the hits - "Take Me to the River," "Once in a Lifetime," even the Eno-free "Burning Down the House." But there were surprises as well.
"Help Me Somebody" was a risky choice. From 1981's "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts," the song's vocal is a recording of a fiery church sermon. Byrne adapted the sound to his own vocal style, and when the trio of singers joined in at the song's climax, the result was moving and powerful.
Byrne's art is inclusive and celebratory. The show could be appreciated on a cerebral level, but that's for later, after you're worn out from dancing.