By David Boyk
Ex- Talking Head Proves It's Better to Byrne Out Than Fade Away:
Paul McCartney had one solo album, Ram, which was about as good as Beatles For Sale. Paul Simon made some good music after ol' Art Garfunkel left to become a huge movie star. But mostly, no matter how great a band is, its members get eaten by bears when they head their Conestogas out and away from the wagon circle.
Now, Talking Heads have a good claim to having been the best band since the Beatles. What's more, the head Head, David Byrne, has had a solo career better than, say, John Lennon, and a lot of other people besides.
He is also the sexiest man in the world, and that's counting both Sean Connery and John Cusack.
Watching him at Zellerbach Hall Friday, reprising his awkward pseudoacrobatics from his days busking in front of Cody's Books, his status as not just the suavest, but also coolest and most self-assured human alive became more apparent than ever.
As the lovely ballad "This Is the Place (Naive Melody)" began, Byrne moonwalked slowly, back and forth in front of a huge screen glowing yellow at the back of the stage, behind his band. Even now that he’s gray-haired, he retains an alien stare and dances the jerky way he did in the Talking Heads' music videos.
That spasmodic lurching-about matches his music, both alone and with Talking Heads. That's not to say at all that Byrne doesn't have a sense of flow and bend—it's all over everything after the Heads album Remain in Light, which replaced the early Heads amphetamenic jolting with rumbles and whistles.
At Friday's concert, Byrne was well-equipped to play his new, more organic songs, with the six-piece Tosca Strings supporting his more ebulliently excessive songs such as "The Great Intoxication," which bulges far over the edge of its vase. Equally, they colored songs like his opener, "Glass, Concrete and Stone," gentle but nudgingly bombastic.
Byrne is no gauche and callow painter with a string brush, though. "Once in a Lifetime" would die if it lost its tenseness, but the fiddlers shut up and let the Talking Heads’ proxies back up their master as he paranoiaed his way through it, and likewise with other Heads numbers. Byrne even kicked everyone else offstage for "Heaven," one of the Heads' lovelier songs. He brought them back, luckily, in time to sing a Cesaria Evora tango, "Ausencia," which he performed as mournfully as the Cape Verdean morna crooner, without doing any false imitation of her style—easy for the previously established sexiest organism living.
"I Zimbra," the best use Dadaism has yet found—the nonsense words, suspiciously similar to "Tiki Tiki Tembo," were written by the early twentieth-century poet Hugo Ball—was vigorous and exciting, and featured the same sliding guitars as on the excellent live album The Name of This Band is Talking Heads, which came out this week.
Naturally, not every one of Byrne's great songs could get a slot, since there are so many, so house-burners like "And She Was" and "Miss America" were missing, for example. But there was room for some obscure songs, almost all of which came off well. Unfortunately, the last song was a dull attempt to replicate a remix of "Lazy," the pointlessly bloated bonus track on Byrne’s newest album, Grown Backwards.
Aside from a few duds, the setlist overflowed with favorites, like "Psycho Killer" and "Road to Nowhere"—which Byrne said was commissioned for the Republican National Convention—and "Finite = Alright," where he points out that Elvis "got wasted, but it's alright / Everything is finite." Luckily, nobody's ruined David Byrne.