By John Hendrickson
What’s different about David Byrne in 2009? His suit fits. The notorious image from Stop Making Sense of Byrne in the big-and-tall suit, undulating like a used-car-lot figurine, is burned in the brains of the YouTube generation. These days? He’s that weird guy with white hair who curated a stage at Bonnaroo two weeks ago. Thankfully, neither of these preconceptions was visible at Saturday’s show at Red Rocks, where Byrne played to an audience who more than likely bought original Talking Heads releases on vinyl.
Known mostly as a “newgrass” and jam-band hub, Colorado has seen a recent wave of indie-leaning acts, highlighted by Denver’s own DeVotchKa. The foursome came dressed for the occasion in matching black suits, save tubist/bassist Jamie Schroder in a black polka-dot dress and red cardigan. Singer Nick Urata crooned in usual fashion over the tribal-orchestral beats supplied by the rotating violin, accordion, tuba, stand-up bass and drums behind him. As made famous by the opening credits of Little Miss Sunshine (for which DeVotchKa played the score), “The Winner Is” was a crowd favorite. The group closed with a raucous European polka jam that sparked droves of uninhibited Coloradans to dance in their rows, Fat Tire cans in hand.
Like every element of his set, Byrne’s entrance was carefully choreographed. The 57-year-old took the stage at the stroke of 9 p.m., leading a parade of white-clad musicians and back-up singers. Generously offering to forego his customary pre-show babble (he told us this through two minutes of pre-show babble), Byrne opened with a lush version of “Strange Overtones.” It was the first of several songs off of last year’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today with Brian Eno, quickly followed by the heaven-reaching “One Fine Day.” Throughout the set, Byrne was sporadically joined by three interpretive dancers. In the usual style of his live show, their moves seemed to exist independent of time or contemporary culture. But, in the end, that’s a large part of what David Byrne is. Old, but not really. Corny, but still somehow cool. At one point late in the performance, Byrne led the ensemble in a choreographed “sitting” office-chair routine, complete with a high-speed rolling slide across the diameter of the stage to conclude the song.
The natural acoustics of Red Rocks boded well for Byrne and his 10 stage performers, with warm reverberating bass tones and vocals that seemed to carry miles away from the hills of Morrison. The audience contributed to the late-show appearance of power duo “Once In A Lifetime” and “Life During Wartime,” the latter releasing a bottled-up dance blowout in the aisles. Byrne returned for three encores, the first of which included Al Green cover “Take Me To The River.”