At this point in his career, it's less a matter of what David Byrne does musically -- which is anything imaginable -- than how he does it. Last night at Bass Performance Hall, Byrne brought along a three-piece rhythm section and the six-piece Tosca Strings from Austin, and the resulting hypnotic cacophony had the near-capacity crowd up and dancing from the first notes of Glass, Concrete & Stone through the throbbing funk of Once In a Lifetime.
Few other artists could elicit a two-minute delay between songs waiting for shrieks of audience joy to finally subside. Fewer could draw an eclectic crowd ranging from 50ish Talking Heads diehards to mohawked high schoolers, but Byrne's appeal is that universal.
Monday night, his manic commitment to entertain was fully expressed, whether in exaggerated hip shakes during Auscencia or a stage-long dance in between verses of The Great Intoxication. Even between songs, Byrne was masterful, pondering the Freudian aspects of the Grand Canyon, or mentioning that lovers who inspired a tune had broken up, "but the song lives on."
The only flaw during Byrne's set was not of his own doing. The sound mix was horrible, with the Tosca Strings so loud that the bassist and percussionist were too often inaudible.
Byrne's opening act was equally impressive.
Sam Phillips delivered an 11-song, 45-minute set that was an example of nothing less than near-minimalist magnificence. Standing stock-still at center stage, backed by a three-piece band, Phillips sang about life's tough rather than tender places, augmenting the music with comments about the true definition of "torch" songs and somehow turning "Hope will kill you" into a laugh line.
Only anticipation of David Byrne kept the crowd from demanding that Phillips stay on stage all night. If she ever comes back to headline at the Bass in her own right, you ought to be there.