By Jennifer Van Evra
"We decided that if George Bush gets elected, we're all moving here," said David Byrne shortly after taking the stage with his 9-piece band at the Centre for the Performing Arts on Tuesday night. By the end of Byrne's mesmerizing set - which spanned three decades of material, four languages and styles that ranged from art pop to dance to opera - there were undoubtedly at least a few fans secretly wishing for a George W. win.
To cries from the audience for legendary Talking Heads tunes such as "Burning Down the House" and "Psycho Killer," Byrne kicked off his 2 hour-long performance with the beautifully dense, percussion-heavy "Glass, Concrete & Stone" from his latest solo album, Grown Backwards . But those who had come for the classics were soon won over by the newer material which takes them from outer space to the grocery checkout line and back up into heaven, all the while making the mundane seem massive and the massive seem graspable.
Dressed like his bandmates in a brown UPS-like uniform, Byrne - his black hair having given way to grey - also performed several talking heads classics, including the quirkily nonsensical Dada song "I Zimbra," the tack-sharp, bass-driven "Once In A Lifetime," and the hard-hitting political indictment, "Blind." By the time the band kicked into the rhythm-heavy "Road to Nowhere," much of the overly polite, seat-bound crowd couldn't resist jumping to their feet and dancing their way toward the front of the hall. And not only did Byrne perform all of the material with remarkable skill and presence; he made it seem perfectly natural that the classic songs from the '70s and '80s were mingling comfortably with opera, Latin music, afrobeat and dance music.
While strings usually provide little more than background ambience in pop music, the music of the Tosca strings - a six-member group from Austin, Texas - was central to the show from start to finish. During Byrne's rendition of Verdi's "Un di Felice, Eterea," they provided sweeping operatic gusts; in his knockout delivery of "Psycho Killer," their taut, eerie lines added to the song's ill-ease; and on lightheartedly upbeat songs like "The Other Side Of This Life" and "Why," they brought a sense of playful drama.
Byrne himself seemed full of energy, relaxed and happy after an evening spent at the UBC Observatory and an afternoon cycling around the Stanley Park seawall with several bandmates. During the sensuously sultry bridge in a cover of Cesaria Evora's "Ausencia," he danced with himself like a teenager practicing for the prom as the strings wept behind him. During the up-tempo Talking Heads tune "This Must Be The Place," he stared straight toward the back of the hall and ran on the spot. At other points, he did goofily geeky little dance moves, swiveling his knees and hips to the music before cracking a wide grin like a kid who just got away with something.
Byrne's breadth and eclecticism were equally evident in his two encores, made up of "Desconocido Soy" (a soaring, fluid song sung in Spanish), "Life During Wartime" (a sharp, angular Talking Heads song), "Lazy" (a highly modern dance tune which, according to Byrne, was a live version of a remix of one of his songs), and "Heaven," the classic tune by the Talking Heads that goes, "The band in Heaven plays my favourite song. They play it once again, they play it all night long." If that's really how it works up there, most of the glowingly satisfied audience members were more than happy to, for now, be right here on earth, listening to a pop legend whose work remains amazingly varied, unique and vital.
Vancouver's Po' Girl kicked off the highly memorable evening with a soul-drenched set of rootsy songs that move easily between lightness and dark, and offer tinges of myriad shades in between. Singing songs that ranged from a sombre tribute to the Downtown Eastside's missing women to a breezy tune about meandering along the shoreline, the trio captivated the audience with their fireside-warm sound and laid-back performance style.