By Mark R. Pantsari
Singer, musician, artist, photographer, author, publisher, producer -- David Byrne has put his own unusual twist on these crafts in a career that has covered four decades, constantly redefining and re-creating the limits of what a "recording artist" is capable of.
As frontman for the famed, revered and highly influential Talking Heads, David Byrne with his own brand of genius first came to light in 1976 when his band helped to establish the New York rock scene and put the legendary CBGB club on the map.
The Talking Heads released 10 albums in the band's 12-year history, including a long string of remarkable hit songs ("Burning Down the House," "Once in a Lifetime," "Naive Melody (This Must Be the Place)" and "Life During Wartime," just to tip the iceberg) that blended the synth-pop of the 1980s with Afro-Cuban-influenced dance grooves.
The band's penchant for adding visuals to its music, best displayed in 1984's award-winning live documentary "Stop Making Sense," which won a Golden Globe and a Film Critic's Award, became the litmus test for the MTV generation.
While other '80s bands of lesser ilk have become distant memories of ridiculous hairstyles and fashion sense, the Talking Heads' musical, visual and creative legacies continue to carry serious weight in the music world, from punk to funk, from indie rock to the jam-band scene.
In his solo work since leaving the Talking Heads, Byrne has continued to expand his own musical and visual horizons.
He's released eight albums, five books, produced albums for his own Luaka Bop label, co-composed the score to the 1987 Academy Award-winning film "The Last Emperor" and served as host of the PBS studio concert series "Sessions at West 54th."
This summer, Byrne proved he could captivate a crowd of about 80,000 fans with an amazing set at the third annual Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tenn.
Friday night, Byrne should likely do the same for a sold-out crowd at the Charleston Music Hall.
Byrne's show is likely to feature a number of tracks from his latest release "Grown Backwards." Released in March of this year, the songs on "Grown Backwards" incorporate classical string arrangements, a familiar Talking Head groove, two opera arias and Byrne's unmistakable tenor vocals and peculiar lyricism.
In a recent self-written press release, Byrne described his "top down" approach to making "Grown Backwards."
"Many of these new songs began as melodic fragments," Byrne wrote. "I began carrying a little micro-cassette recorder with me in my backpack, and if a tune popped into my head I'd hum it, wordlessly, into the mike, wherever I was. I eventually accumulated a number of these cassettes and then after some months played them back and figured out what chords and structures could support these melodies."
For the album, Byrne worked with the Austin, Texas-based group, Tosca Strings, and Mauro Refosco (percussion), Paul Frazier (bass) and Graham Hawthorne (drums). The album also features a duet with Rufus Wainwright.
Byrne has long been touring with the Tosca Strings and used the quartet more as part of his entire band for the album rather than the way "pop musicians have been doing it for decades," according to his press release.
"I purposely decided to keep the same approach I had on my tour -- to integrate the strings and other arranged instruments as part of the band, rather than just using them as icing and sweetening. Since the band was mainly a rhythm section, there would be lots of sonic space for the other stuff to be heard. The strings combined with the band brought out an emotional richness in the new songs and even in the old ones."
David Byrne's show Friday night at the Charleston Music Hall is likely to include a few interesting takes on coveted Talking Heads songs as well.
Those lucky enough to have tickets to this sold-out concert should be in for quite a musical experience.