By Bret Collingwood
Substituting for a mysteriously absent Architecture In Helsinki at the last moment, The Boat People are their usual impeccably welldrilled selves as they play to a still filling Convention Centre. It's a little surreal to see the lads playing their impeccably crafted pop songs ("Arms Length," "Tell Someone Who Cares" et al) in these cavernous, rather sterile environs, but the audience, many of whom surely have no idea who the band is, seem to warm to them by set's end.
David Byrne has no right to be looking so good in his mid-50s! Aside from a shock of grey hair, the man is otherwise every bit the tall, slim, gangly eccentric who fronted Talking Heads back in the day. Joined by a drummer, percussionist, bassist and a six-piece string section, Byrne opens with "Glass, Concrete & Stone", from the soundtrack to Stephen Frears’ 2002 film Dirty Pretty Things (and included on Byrne’s recent album Grown Backwards). Immediately the polyrhythmic interplay of the xylophone and strings betray the profound influence of world music on Byrne's work, an influence that informed even early Talking Heads material. The song is a beautifully lilting number that Byrne and band perform flawlessly. The crowd respond enthusiastically, if a little cautiously, and many initially seems a little thrown by Byrne's hesitant, awkward between-song banter.
We soon learn that this is all part of Byrne's considerable, if somewhat eccentric charm, and by mid-set, when the Talking Heads numbers come out and Byrne indulges in some of his trademark running-on-the-spot "dancing", the audience are pretty much eating out of his hand.
The Heads songs are surprisingly numerous, sometimes considerably rearranged, but always recognisable, all performed as if Byrne wrote them yesterday. "The Road To Nowhere" begins acoustically, before being joined by xylophone and bass and building to the familiar, propulsive rhythm of the recorded version. Byrne tells us the story behind "And She Was" (a recollection of a girl from his high school who apparently used to go hang out near the local chocolate milk factory and drop acid) before launching into a spirited rendering of the song. By the time the band lean into the stomping, intense groove of "Psycho Killer", the crowd are on their feet and gettin' down.
It's not just about the Talking Heads material though – Byrne throws in several solo tracks and off-the-wall cover versions as well. He not only makes Hendrix's "One Rainy Wish" his own, he also reminds one what a beautiful song it is; he’s somewhat less successful in his take on Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" (!) – once the audience gets the joke, most of them are just waiting for him to hurry up and get it over with.
Still, two hours and two encores later, the crowd are unanimous in their praise of this extraordinarily talented musician at the peak of his powers. His tight, but never overly slick, band and a gorgeous mix (I've never heard strings sound so good through a PA) make this the best concert I've seen in at least a year.
Come back soon!