By Colin Stutz
"Thank you, we shall begin now," said David Byrne stiffly Saturday night. He had just walked onstage to roaring applause at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles' Griffith Park, accompanied by Annie Clark, who's better known by the moniker St. Vincent, and raring to conduct the 10-piece New Orleans brass band that stood behind them.
Launching into the bright horn intro of "Who," the opening track from the collaboration album Love This Giant he and Clark released last month, the audience was on its feet and singing along with the song's hook, asking, "Who is an honest man?" Byrne certainly was -- giving himself over completely to the theatrical production with amazing charisma. And that stiffness with which he spoke quickly translated to vibrant, robotic dance moves as he led the band in choreographed steps across the stage.
Standing next to Clark, dressed in black with a bright white suit coat, his shirt buttoned to the top, Byrne strummed on a cherry red acoustic guitar belting out verse into a wire headset that provided a cordless mobility he would soon put to use. His voice was a sound to behold, too, as strong and clean as on any of the recordings.
As captivating a performer as Byrne proved himself to be, he never overshadowed Clark or their band, sharing the spotlight in a set that included the majority of Love This Giant’s track list, as well as St. Vincent originals and a number of classics from Byrne's back catalogue of Talking Heads, solo and past musical partnerships.
In the next song, "Weekend in the Dust," Byrne joined the band in two formations that stepped back and forth in jazzy crossing parallel lines, while Clark led the show singing leads and playing electric guitar behind a collection of effects pedals and a microphone.
Wearing a purple strapless dress and high heels, Clark's performance seemed heavily Byrne-influenced as well, as she moved in little mechanic shimmy-steps while shredding out equally melodic and discordant guitar riffs. Similarly, her original songs also took on a new life as they blended in the sounds brass giving the feel of a Broadway bow.
In all, Byrne and Clark's stage setup was fairly minimal -- few lights and a flat matte screen behind them that took on some magnificent shadows throughout the set -- but the choreographed theatrics are what truly brought the show to life. As campy as it could have been, the ensemble pulled it off with earnest charm, illustrating the songs' vivid imagery through dance. For instance, during the St. Vincent number "Cheerleader", all the musicians but Clark laid down and played from the stage floor, recalling her movements in the song's music video. Meanwhile Byrne flapped up and down like a dying fish to sing the pounding chorus line, "I, I, I, I."
Later in the set's second encore, the band moved in waltz-like steps for St. Vincent's "Party," followed shortly by The Talking Heads' "Road To Nowhere," which closed the show. Positioning each song like an act in a play, between tunes, the stage went black and the cast would scramble into new formations.
Throughout the night, Byrne and Clark didn't banter much with the audience but were far from disengaged. In fact, that slight separation only added to the sense of theatricality, especially on songs like Byrne's Brian Eno-collaboration "Strange Overtones," the X-Press 2 track "I'm Lazy," on which he's featured, as well as his solo number "Like Humans Do" and Talking Heads hits "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)," "Burning Down the House" and "Road to Nowhere."
Byrne introduced the song "I Should Watch TV" as a number he and Clark wrote with Walt Whitman, "a personal friend" (many of the verses are borrowed from Whitman's poem "Song of Myself") and explained that it explores the idea of watching television as a way to relate with everyday people and the world better. Byrne elaborated that the song "starts with non-fiction" ideas from a few years ago "and an idea I don't have so much anymore… And the rest is self explanatory."
Later, he dedicated the soft and sweet set-closing "Outside of Space and Time" to the Higgs boson particle that was discovered by scientists this past summer.
Following an extended exit that included four bows and a bouquet of roses for Clark, the band returned for an encore and a personal moment. Reflecting on her musical partner, Clark told a story of first discovering Byrne's music when she was 3 or 4 watching Revenge of the Nerds. She said, "I fell in love with David's music then and if I'd told that 3- or 4-year-old version of myself that a few years later I'd be onstage with David and this wonderful band and with you guys out there on this gorgeous night, I would have called my future-self a liar."
"Sidebar," she added with a laugh. "I'm totally friends with the daughter of the screenwriter of Revenge of the Nerds, so everything works out is what I mean to say."
Indeed, the night felt fortuitous for all in attendance, both onstage and off.
Weekend in the Dust
Save Me From What I Want
I Am An Ape
This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)
The Forest Awakes
Like Humans Do
I Should Watch TV
The One Who Broke Your Heart
Outside of Space and Time
Burning Down the House
Road to Nowhere