By Daniel Kreps
Dressed in all white and backed by a seven-member strong band, David Byrne played a pair of shows at New York’s famed Radio City Music Hall to celebrate his works with producer Brian Eno, a collaboration that resulted in three Talking Heads albums, a 1981 LP that pretty much created what we now call “sampling” and, most recently, 2008’s superb Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. For anyone still hoping for a Talking Heads reunion, the pair of shows at Radio City and the subsequent tour was probably as close as you’ll get, as Byrne couldn’t even muster saying that band’s name while telling the crowd what was on tap for the night’s performance.
Still, the Talking Heads material took on a new life when played by Byrne and his stellar backup band, especially the Remain In Light songs. “Born Under Punches (The Beat Goes On)” somehow amplified its thick African groove, there was more urgency in the harmonies of “The Great Curve” and on “Houses in Motion,” it sounded like Byrne swapped out his guitar for Robert Fripp’s. Byrne also breathed new life and lyrics into the instrumental “Help Me Somebody” from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, with Byrne in full mad preacher mode, while ensuring that the evening’s Everything That Happens remained fresh translating from the LP to the stage.
This was more of a performance than a concert, as evidenced by the interpretative stylings of a trio of dancers who together served as the evening’s mischievous Puck from A Midsummer’s Night Dream, stealing and running around with the back-up singers’ microphones, sliding across the stage on cubicle chairs and, at one amazing moment, literally leap-frogging over Byrne’s shoulders while he was in the middle of a guitar solo. Given the regal venue and the theatricality of the performance, there was some crowd ambivalence between sitting respectfully and the desire to dance, with the audience rising and sitting from song to song like an orchestrated “wave” at a baseball game. Thankfully, by the time “Once in a Lifetime” burst out towards the end of the set, the entire crowd could longer fight the urge to move.
But the real theatrics came out during the second encore “Burning Down the House,” when a tutu-wearing Byrne and his band were besieged by a flood of dancers that came storming out for a 30-leg kickline during the closing chorus in homage to Radio City’s usual residents, the Rockettes. Even though playing “Burning Down the House” broke the rules of the evening’s Byrne/Eno theme — Eno had no hand in recording Speaking in Tongues — the song served as a perfect way to cap the evening before Byrne officially closed out the evening with the pastoral third encore “Everything That Happens.”