By Noel Mengel
PART of the way through David Byrne's triumphant return to Brisbane, the faces on the six-piece Tosca Strings told the story.
The Austin, Texas ensemble were radiant, grinning, laughing out loud, as if they couldn't quite believe their luck at being on stage playing such sublime music with one of the most consistently creative individuals -- not to mention one of the most interesting personalities -- in rock music.
After all, where else can classically trained musicians find themselves on a tour where they have the chance to play songs that range from Jimi Hendrix's One Rainy Wish to Whitney Houston's I Wanna Dance with Somebody and a resetting of Byrne's Talking Heads classic Psycho Killer that begins as a near-classical piece and ends as sizzling rocker.
The audience couldn't quite believe their luck, either, to find Byrne in such spectacular voice -- his vocals seem more powerful now than at any time in his career -- and able to unite the numerous genres he has investigated into an entertaining, seamless concert.
Byrne's solo years have delivered quality songs such as Like Humans Do and Finite=Alright, which more than held their own among the better-known material.
His fascination with Latin rhythms came to the fore in tunes such as Cole Porter's Don't Fence Me In, delivered in the forro style of Brazil's northeast.
A Byrne audience is a discerning one, so even those who weren't familiar with his solo years were more than happy to be brought up to date with his musical adventures.
But naturally it was the Talking Heads material that really set the house alight, from the more straight-ahead pop tunes such as And She Was and Road to Nowhere to the dazzling, hypnotic polyrhythms of Once in a Lifetime, Life During Wartime and This Must Be the Place.
The virtuoso percussion display by Mauro Camila Refosco on congas and timbales (and anything else he could find to hit) was a show in itself, while drummer Graham Hawthorne and bassist Paul Frazier delivered the kind of fluid groove which left every musician in the audience -- the majority, no doubt -- feeling a little green with envy.
Byrne's between-song patter was a treat, explaining stories behind the songs with the same quirky wit and wide-eyed charm that he brings to his songs.
One of the messages from Byrne's music has always been to find freedom through dancing and the man himself is still a beautiful mover. By the time he wryly announced that tour promoter Michael Chugg had personally phoned to say the audience were allowed to dance from now on, many had been on their feet for some time.
If there was a disappointment, it's that quality acts such as Byrne and Brian Wilson play to smaller -- but dazzled -- audiences.
But spread the word. If Byrne gets back to Brisbane, he delivers a show that will reconfirm your faith in the power of music. Awesome.
Support band The Boat People enjoyed the chance to show their rapidly developing repertoire to a crowd so welcoming of musical invention. By the sound of songs like Tell Someone Who Cares, they have plenty of that to go around.