By Dave Madeloni
It took about four songs into David Byrne's performance at The Calvin Theater earlier this month for someone in the audience to be moved enough to shout during a quiet moment, "You're a genius."
If there were any doubters at that moment, they were surely converts by the end of the enthralling and exhilarating show, one that magically combined musical nuance, lyrical poetry, communal spirituality and frenzied dancing.
I realize that the genius label tends to be a bit overused, but I wasn't the only critic present who was similarly moved. In his Dec. 9 review, The Berkshire Eagle's Jeremy Goodwin used adjectives, such as "propulsive," "thrilling," "dynamic" and "inspiring." The Daily Hampshire Gazette's Ken Maiuri described the show in his column as one that "made people dance on park benches afterwards, sent adults leaping happily across the late-night Main Street intersection in Northampton like ecstatic kids. ... A total experience."
The Daily Collegian's Ian Nelson called the concert "truly transcendent ... a religious experience." Eric Danton of The Hartford Courant was more reserved, merely calling the show, which included a crack quintet supported by three soulful back-up singers and three swirling dances, "a spectacle."
As we filed out, my wife, not one prone to hyperbole, uttered the "G" word.
Of course, merely being able to put together a great band, or hiring top-notch dancers and choreographers doesn't make one a genius. Neither does being an underrated singer or brilliant songwriter or exceptional visual artist. But all of those things cohesively put together — as it was at The Calvin tour stop — are another thing altogether.
For those of you who had the misfortune of missing the show, there is the new record, which has all the above-mentioned ingredients, except for the dancing, which attentive listeners are likely to provide at home. For those too self-conscious to spin around the living room in front of friends or family members, "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today" provides a more cerebral experience as well.
The new release has Byrne taking the musical bits and pieces by his old pal and collaborator, Brian Eno, and applying his idiosyncratic and innovative lyrics to masterful effect. "Everything That Happens" — their first full collaboration since the ambitious "My Life In The Bush of Ghosts" 27 years ago, grew from a handful of compositions Eno didn't know what to do with. Byrne, listened and offered to compose lyrics and melodies that corresponded to the "folk-electronic-gospel feeling" that Eno's tunes evoked.
The result was described by Eno, as "music in which singing becomes the central event, but whose sonic landscapes are atypical of such vocal-centered tracks."
The album opens on a slightly melancholic yet hopeful note with "Home." The song examines the negative and positive effects of family on one's future ("I'm looking for a home/where the wheels are turning/Home-where I keep returning/Home-where my world is breaking in too."). It is vintage Byrne — hypnotic, elusive and weirdly spiritual.
Other highlights include the infectious and melodic "Strange Overtones," which opened the Calvin set and compares well with many of the most radio-friendly Talking Heads songs that were a staple of MTV in the '80s. The title track, which served as the concert's third and final encore, best exemplifies the alt-gospel vibe woven throughout the 11 tracks.
David Byrne has passed the point in his career where he has been a solo performer longer than his more celebrated stint as front man for Talking Heads, by far the most popular art-pop band in history. Since their demise, he has expanded his artistic vision into a number of pursuits including filmmaking, photography, acting (he appeared on "The Simpsons"), architecture, radio and writing.
In many ways Byrne is a victim of the nostalgia-seeking mainstream audience that continually longs for a reunion of the band he made famous, and who ignore or shrug off his newer material. That is their loss. And although his post-Talking Heads work is often equals and, at, times, surpasses his earlier band work, Byrne will never be as commercially successful because of that dynamic. But that hasn't stopped him from making great music.