By Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no foolin' around," sang David Byrne, in "Life During Wartime" Sunday evening. That didn't stop a sellout crowd at the Pabst Theater from dancing and singing along with this song of fear, danger and deprivation.
Byrne can make disaster and paranoia fun, and that might be the key to his staying power. In his musical persona, at least, he is a sophisticated man, aware of the harsh realities but philosophical enough to enjoy life in spite of it all. "Psycho Killer" at large? Dance on.
Byrne was in town with his "My Backwards Life" tour, with bassist Paul Frazier, drummer Graham Hawthorne, percussionist Mauro Refosco and the six Tosca Strings. Most of the 22 numbers were either ingeniously arranged revivals of Talking Heads songs or from Byrne's new "Grown Backwards" album.
The variety of moods, both within songs and among them, gave this program richness and breadth. There was even an aria from Verdi's "La Traviata." Byrne sang "Un Di Felice" on his own terms, in the same reedy, edgy tenor he laid on "Psycho Killer." He was so honest and ardent that not quite making the notes became touching.
Byrne comes across as completely himself and at home on the stage. This is a physically demanding show, and exceptionally tight arrangements leave little room for error, but Byrne showed no hint of strain. He joked with the crowd from beginning to end, his voice remained robust and his supple, eccentric dancing grew in its charm and energy.
Many Byrne songs - "Psycho Killer," "Road to Nowhere," "What a Day That Was" and "U.B. Jesus" - build to climaxes of great cathartic power. But songs I like best - "Like Humans Do," "She Only Sleeps," "Finite=Alright" and, especially, "Once in a Lifetime" - run a simple (often obsessive) thought and a melodic hook through clever rhythmic cycles.
"I'm breathin' in and breathin' out . . . like humans do" is an example; we wait for it to come around and bring tangents back to earth.
Set List: "Glass, Concrete & Stone," "I Zimbra," "Ausencia," "Finite=Alright," "She Only Sleeps," "The Great Intoxication," "Naive Melody - This Must Be," "Road to Nowhere," "(Nothing But) Flowers," "Once in a Lifetime," "Un Di Felice," "Tiny Apocalypse," "Psycho Killer," "U.B. Jesus," "Like Humans Do," "Dialog Box," "What a Day That Was," "Blind," "Desconocido Soy," "Life During Wartime," "And She Was," "Lazy."
Kaki King, a fine solo guitarist in the tradition of Leo Kottke and the late Michael Hedges, opened for Byrne.