By Randell Roberts
In 2004, two skinny heavyweights and kindred spirits from opposing ends of the Western Hemisphere, Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso and former Talking Heads singer-visual artist David Byrne, converged at Carnegie Hall in Byrne’s New York City to perform. Respected songwriters who for the last four decades have in similar ways chronicled their respective cultures, the pair trade stripped-down renditions of some of their classics on this live document and in doing so offer borderless bliss.
The first half of the concert belongs to Veloso, whose lilting tenor, accompanied by cellist Jaques Morelenbaum and percussionist Mauro Refosco, floats through versions of his great “Você é Linda,” “Sampa” and “Manhattã” as well as Byrne’s “The Revolution.” Veloso is joined by Byrne on the latter, who then takes over to respond via acoustic versions of his “And She Was,” “Life During Wartime” and best, the underappreciated love song “She Only Sleeps.”
The highlight of the recording is another lesser-known Byrne gem, Talking Heads’ “(Nothing but) Flowers.” The song imagines two lovers wandering through a beautiful post-industrial world in which shopping malls and parking lots have been overgrown with lush vegetation, where 7-Elevens have vanished and Pizza Huts are covered with daisies. Veloso’s witty phrasing draws giddy chuckles from the crowd, which revels in his longing for “candy bars and chocolate cookies” but having to settle for nuts and berries. Such joy is evident throughout “Live at Carnegie Hall.”
Byrne finally cranks things up on “God’s Child” and “Road to Nowhere,” breaking up the stuffy atmosphere with his vocal whoops and wails. Veloso brings a wicked panache to his duet with Byrne on Talking Heads’ “(Nothing But) Flowers,” as if gently mocking the hapless narrator’s inability to cope with the sudden reversal of human progress. And Veloso shades Byrne with wistful melancholy on the latter’s heart-breaking ode to nothingness, “Heaven.” It makes this a worthwhile if not essential addition to each artist’s formidable discography.