By Jim Harrington
David Byrne has gone from rocking spiky-haired youths to crooning for Rogaine-using yuppies. He's switched from seedy punk clubs in the cities to upscale wineries in the suburbs.
Yet, unlike many other aging pop artists, the 53-year-old former leader of the Talking Heads hasn't lost an ounce of coolness in the transition.
Byrne proved once again that he is aging as gracefully as any rock star in the business during his fine outing at Saratoga's Mountain Winery on Wednesday 6/22. Credit that, in large part, to a love for experimentation that seems to have only grown stronger over the years.
Kicking off the concert with a potent version of "The Great Intoxication," a track from 2001's "Look Into the Eyeball," Byrne delivered a daringly diverse and truly challenging evening of music.
Those looking for a safe run through the hits were certainly at the wrong venue on this night. Byrne tinkered with old Talking Heads favorites and toyed with his solo material. He covered both Hendrix and Verdi. He talked about Twyla Tharp and addressed the theories of Albert Einstein. In others words, it was your standard Wednesday night in the suburbs with David Byrne.
And, as per standard, he made each left turn feel like exactly the right one. For example, he shaved the harsh edge off the classic "Psycho Killer," made it decidedly less menacing, and managed to make it sound both familiar and refreshingly new. He translated the alt-country of Lambchop's "The Man Who Loved Beer" into a more pop-oriented setting and still conveyed a proper sense of country noir. He performed "One Rainy Wish," a Hendrix tune originally recorded on 1967's "Axis: Bold as Love," with only a hint of guitar and it was met with rapturous approval from the crowd. "Jimi would be proud of you!" exclaimed one fan.
Given the ambitious nature of the event, and the plethora of musical styles on display, the concert felt amazingly cohesive and astoundingly fluid. Byrne had plenty of help in achieving that feat. In particular, he was masterfully accompanied by the Tosca Strings, which played a major role in stirring all the different flavors into one tasteful stew.
The Austin-based chamber group, which is brilliantly showcased on Byrne's "Grown Backwards," was the common thread that managed to sew together such diversely appealing offerings as the deeply funky "Like Humans Do," the playful sing-along "She Only Sleeps" and the peppy, hopeful "This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)."
After a main set full of such assorted pleasures, it would have been naïve to expect Byrne to play it safe with an encore full of surefire crowd pleasers. Instead, the wily performer came out and sang "Un Di Felice," an aria from Verdi's "La Traviata." It was the final left turn of an evening full of them. And it turned out to be just the right one.