By Chicago Tribune
After being greeted with a two-minute standing ovation, David Byrne began his Thursday night concert at Skyline Stage with "Glass, Concrete & Stone," a breezy first-person narrative of a city dweller's daily routine among fabricated surroundings that threaten to mute personality and emotion.
In relating humankind's need for imagination, the song served as a thematic springboard for a joyous two-hour-long set that explored the concepts of permanence and psychological nirvana in an increasingly shallow society. (Byrne returns for an encore concert at Skyline Stage on Monday.)
Thinking outside the box Thursday, Byrne demonstrated music's limitless creative potential by pairing with Austin, Texas', Tosca Strings, a sextet that was equally at home playing classical, funk, pop and worldbeat. Avoiding the stodginess that often plagues chamber pop combinations, the ensemble supplied melodic thrust while percussionist Mauro Refosco, bassist Paul Frazier and drummer Graham Hawthorne acted as the rhythmic backbone. Barely visible behind a circle of bongos, cymbals and steel drums, Refosco used bare hands, mallets, shakers and sticks to create colorful tropical textures and propel alternating tempos.
Save for his silvery hair, the 52-year-old Byrne showed no signs of middle age. His fluttery voice ably responded to the demands of the eclectic material, failing only during Verdi's aria "Un Di Felice, Eterea." It was the lone instance that Byrne didn't connect with the sold-out audience, which on several occasions showered the visibly appreciative singer with deafening applause that forced him to pause and repeat commentary.
Playing solo material from 2001's "Look Into the Eyeball" and his recent "Grown Backwards" album, the former Talking Heads vocalist trotted out a variety of sounds that had the crowd clapping and dancing. "Tiny Apocalypse" bridged half-rapped lyrics over a quirky groove, "U.B. Jesus" ventured into tribal territory and the chill-out smash "Lazy" was recast as calypso trip-hop.
While Byrne's solo fare was strong, the transformation of several Talking Heads classics best showcased the band's abilities. A reconfigured "Psycho Killer" benefited from increased tension, courtesy of strings that ominously crept in a pattern similar to the theme from "Jaws." Strings also doubled as horns on the Afrobeat of "I Zimbra" and whirred like hummingbird wings during "What a Day That Was."