By Andrew Matson
David Byrne was joined by the Extra Action Marching Band last night at the Paramount. The evening was a fully choreographed, highly conceptual dance party.
The last things anyone remembers from Wednesday's David Byrne concert at the Paramount: sequins, pom-poms, drums, brass, bare male chests, and female rump flesh.
After a second (planned) encore concluded the night's on-stage action, San Francisco's Extra Action Marching Band played in the Paramount's foyer as the audience made its way out. People lingered to watch the ensemble of what looked like the world's friendliest about-to-strip strippers, then headed out to Pine Street to convene under the venue's marquee and say goodbye to each other or plan what they would do next.
"Now that's a way to finish a show," said one man on the sidewalk.
"That was the gayest marching band I've ever seen," said his conversation partner.
It was a fitting end to a cut-loose night that had old and young people dancing in the aisles, and everybody forgetting they paid $45 for a ticket. More than music (which was great; Byrne's singing was perfect) and spectacle (which it wasn't short on), the concert provided a feeling of ecstatic relief.
Byrne got a little help from his friends all night long. Three risen stations behind him (for hand drums, regular drums, and synthesizers) held one person each, and on stage there were three very attractive back-up singers, a bass player, and a team of dancers that intermittently leaped, chicken-danced, floated as if underwater, and whirled like dervishes while Byrne led the show up front, occasionally falling in line for group dance forays. Everybody was clad completely in white and the whole two hour concert was choreographed.
The spacious set-up was similar to that in 1984 Talking Heads concert movie "Stop Making Sense," and it made the Paramount's stage seem much bigger than normal.
Byrne has said before he considers his singing voice less than good, but that was the best part of Wednesday's music, even though his band had an excellent way with its go-go drumming, minimal-funk bass, un-hip synth sounds, and expressive backing vocals. David Byrne simply does not get enough credit for his vocal abilities. From the get-go, he sang from deep in his trunk and seemed to relax all his face muscles, projecting a barely rough, semi-yelp-y tenor precisely and with surprising power.
He played old hits ("Burning Down The House," "Heaven," "Road to Nowhere"), obscurities from forward-thinking 1981 album "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts," and ended with "Everything That Happens," a Zen-ish, gospel-y track from 2008 album "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today."
At the beginning of the evening, he noted there were two professional photographers by the front of the stage, but said everyone else was welcome to take pictures, too, with the caveat that only attractive ones be posted on the Internet.
In the encore section of his performance, he introduced Extra Action, and as it entered from behind the crowd, playing and dancing in the aisles and infiltrating the stage from either side, Byrne noted the outre, gypsy marching band would play an after-show "at the Comet Tavern on East Pike Street," which it did.
If you peeked in the Comet's window a few hours later, you could see Byrne's calculatedly uninhibited party still going. In spirit, at least.