By Curtis Ross
David Byrne bridged the musical divide between Europe and Africa on Wednesday night before a crowd of 683 at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center's Ferguson Hall.
The six-piece Tosca Strings provided sweeping melodies and touches of Old World drama. Drummer Dan Hawthorne, percussionist Mauro Refosco and bassist Paul Frazier provided a simmering mix of interlocking rhythms and jungle-dense grooves.
Byrne danced, in that herky-jerky but somehow graceful way of his, at center stage, moving easily between solo material, favorites from his days leading Talking Heads and some choice remakes.
He began with the deceptively gentle sounding "Glass, Concrete & Stone'', from this year's "Grown Backwards'' album. The next number, "I Zimbra,'' was as aggressively rhythmic as the preceding song had been subtle. It was here that the theater became a dance floor with most in the crowd out of their seats.
"This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)'' displayed more swing and bounce than the Talking Heads' original version. "Like Humans Do'' and "U B Jesus'' proved Byrne still writes wonderfully twisted pop, even if fewer people are listening these days.
Byrne made songs by Jimi Hendrix ("One Rainy Wish'') and Cole Porter ("Don't Fence Me In'') his own. Several numbers spotlighted his growth as a rich, dramatic vocalist. He didn't perform either of the operatic arias he recorded on "Grown Backwards,'' but the vocal discipline was obvious.
The excellent backing musicians were in perfect sync with Byrne - and color-coordinated as well, in brown shirts and pants that made them look like a UPS crew on casual Friday.
Two older numbers with intimations of violence, "Life During Wartime'' and "Blind", were performed with an unsettling new resonance.