By Brent Hallenbeck
Some of my favorite live-music experiences have come courtesy of David Byrne.
Favorite concert film: Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense.”
Favorite concert at the Flynn Center: David Byrne’s performance there almost exactly five years ago.
Ask me to compile the Top 10 concerts I’ve ever seen anywhere, and that one undoubtedly makes the list. The stately Flynn has never felt more explosive than it did on that night in 2004 when Byrne’s intense, rhythmic sounds filled the room.
So that left me both greatly anticipating Monday’s concert on the lawn at the Shelburne Museum and wondering if there was any chance this show could live up to previous expectations. That wonder didn’t last long. The show was white-hot.
Literally — Byrne, whose hair is now white, came out in a white shirt and pants, as did his band and the amazing, athletic dancers who would cavort creatively across the stage all night. The dancers evoked Byrne’s 1981 collaboration with choreographer Twyla Tharp, and Byrne even performed some of the music from that project, known as “The Catherine Wheel.”
Most of the music Monday night, however, highlighted Byrne’s collaborations with another artistic icon, producer and musician Brian Eno. Byrne is in his late 50s now, but unlike a lot of musicians of his generation, his voice has not lost any of its power. He sounded especially good on the relatively mellow “One Fine Day,” a song from his 2008 album with Eno, “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.”
The concert really hit its stride midway through when Byrne and his band played the holy trinity of mid-career Heads songs, starting with “Crosseyed and Painless” from the Eno-produced 1980 album “Remain in Light.” Byrne repeatedly slammed the tremolo bar against his guitar (a white guitar, naturally) as the fever of that song rose to the point of breaking. That segued into the best-known tune from “Remain in Light,” “Once in a Lifetime,” and from there the band plunged into the frantic “Life During Wartime” from “Fear of Music,” the Eno-helmed 1979 album where Talking Heads really found their creative, multi-cultural stride.
Another thing that separates Byrne from many of his contemporaries is the strength he pours into songs he’s been playing for three decades. He gives no sense that he’s bored with them or wants to get them over with as soon as possible. He plays each of his songs as if they’re bursting forth for the first time.
Byrne and the band came out for three fine encores, which included “Take Me to the River” from the Eno-produced 1978 Heads album “More Songs About Buildings and Food.” “Take Me to the River” was originally recorded by Al Green who, coincidentally, performed my favorite Shelburne Museum concert prior to Monday night.
I say “prior to Monday night” because now I have another David Byrne-related favorite — the best concert I’ve seen in the Shelburne Museum Concerts on the Green series.