By Reed Fischer
David Byrne & St. Vincent
State Theatre, Minneapolis
Saturday, September 15, 2012
Former Talking Heads motor David Byrne is 60, and St. Vincent's Annie Clark turns 30 this month, but experiencing them is a timeless sort of fun. They came together a couple of years ago to record a brassy, confident album called Love This Giant. This brand of metal (as in, that's what the instruments are made out of) machine music is vibrant, and upon its recent emergence, there was no question that the recording would be fuel for a joint tour of striking and luxurious proportions.
During their opening night, staged in downtown Minneapolis, it was easy to consider two ways to look at a dress rehearsal. The first, and far more flattering one, is to focus on experiencing a performance at its most primal, raw, and unrehearsed -- and seeing it first. The second one, is to accept that witnessing a show first means that it's only going to get more rehearsed and polished. Bouncing between these two perspectives gnawed at this reviewer Saturday evening.
Dressed a bit like a waiter working at a bar called Heaven -- white shoes, black pants, black shirt, white coat, white hair -- Byrne cut an impressive figure as he led 11 other performers through a series of heavily choreographed numbers. "Who," the urgent single from Love This Giant, was an immediate dive into the trumpet, trombone, tuba, french horn, and saxophone barrage that would fill the evening. In addition to the instruments' moving parts, every band member not tied to a drum set moved across the stage in ever-changing patterns -- and most seemed to be hitting their marks. This song also had some of the most satisfying interplay between Byrne and Clark's vocals of the entire evening.
The revue continued with a grab bag of hits and favorites from both artists. In a gown that reflected the old-school bulbs set bursting from the back of the stage, Clark shuffled with tiny ballerina-like steps around the stage. Though her legs moved daintily, she carried her electric guitar with a power exceeding anyone on the stage. On several occasions, her fierce solos -- especially on Byrne's recent Brian Eno collaboration "Strange Overtones" -- brought entire songs to their knees to weep and beg for more.
"Let's not make too many mistakes," was one of a handful of comments made by Byrne as the evening progressed. And it's not that there were moments where the cascading, twirling, circling, swaying, and emoting troupe seemed like they were actually messing up the routine -- but there were plenty that felt like their focus was so extreme that it chipped away from the lighthearted nature of most of the work.
Whenever a song from the Talking Heads back catalog or St. Vincent's triumphant Strange Mercy came along, however, the crowd rose from their seat cushions to help the cause. "This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)" from 1983's Speaking in Tongues, Byrne began showing off a gait that shows he's keeping his bicycling regimen going. Matched with his exaggerated, robotic arms jutting out, he stepped in nearly every quadrant of the stage. By the time they reached Love This Giant's epic final track, "Outside of Space and Time," precision seemed finally tightly monogrammed to the performers' lapels.
Thus, the encore(s) brought out a huge sigh of relief for everyone inside the State Theatre, onstage and off. This thing went off without any major hitches. And so St Vincent's "Cruel" burned hotter than the bulbs, and even hotter than the red acoustic guitar Byrne brandished for "Burning Down the House." Aptly, the proceedings ended with "Road to Nowhere," a Heads standard since 1985. This brought out the ensemble's marching band abilities as they wandered the stage in a circle. This show knows where it's going, and the future is certain -- even if it took giving them a little time to work it out.
Random Detail: It was marvelous to see that David Byrne employed a microphone mounted to his head, Usher-style.
Overheard: "Sit the fuck down."
The Crowd: Dressed for a nice Saturday night out. Loose-limbed when the moment suited them.
Weekend in the Dust
Save Me from What I Want (St. Vincent)
Strange Overtones (David Byrne)
I Am an Ape
Marrow (St. Vincent)
This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody) (Talking Heads)
The Forest Awakes
Like Humans Do (Byrne)
Cheerleader (St. Vincent)
I Should Watch TV
Northern Lights (St. Vincent)
The One Who Broke Your Heart
Outside of Space and Time
Cruel (St. Vincent)
Burning Down the House (Talking Heads)
The Party (St. Vincent)
Road to Nowhere (Talking Heads)