Musicians liven up Byrne, St. Vincent collaboration

Via Journal Sentinel

By Piet Levy

he Riverside Theater marquee Sunday read "David Byrne & St. Vincent," but if the world were just, it would have read "David Byrne & St. Vincent & an eight piece horn and reed section!"

A bit wordy, admittedly, but it's impossible to imagine Sunday's show without that colorful backing ensemble. Byrne and St. Vincent brought the star power and eccentricity, and nearly filled the Riverside to capacity. But that band was chiefly responsible for the drama and the fun.

Sunday was just the second full concert featuring Byrne, the brain behind Talking Heads, and the indie crowd-worshipped St. Vincent (birth name Annie Clark), coming less than a week after the release of their horn-heavy collaborative album "Love This Giant." Already the 10 musicians (plus a drummer and keyboardist) have found their groove with the towering "Giant" tracks, from herky-jerky "Who" (with its sax bursts and brass swirls), to a conga line-ready "The One Who Broke Your Heart," to funky "The Forest Awakes," made more beguiling with Byrne and the band's emotionless, robotic marching while St. Vincent cooed, "The bombs burst in air, my hair is all right," a cool grin on her face. (Oft-kilter choreography was another core ingredient Sunday, including but not limited to St. Vincent's guitar-shredding body spasms and a Byrne dance routine that came off like a wacko Tae Bo warm-up.)

As good as those "Giant" songs are, and were Sunday, the reinterpretations of Talking Heads classics were the evening's biggest crowd pleasers. The bold sounds of brass brought so much fire to "Burning Down The House," the performance nearly matched the epic version immortalized in Jonathan Demme's Talking Heads concert film "Stop Making Sense."

But ultimately St. Vincent's songs, and also her stage performance, were most improved with this new live arrangement. The momentum at her Pabst show last fall was stunted by a seemingly endless series of awkward pauses between songs, and her small touring band couldn't fully capture the majesty of her complex chamber pop. But St. Vincent never stalled between numbers, while the brass band magnified the menace of "Marrow," and unearthed a waltz-like whimsy to "The Party" without overpowering that track's hypnotic allure.

More subtle arrangements like "The Party" would have been welcome during the hour and 45 minute set. And seeing Byrne and St. Vincent get into a theremin duel during St. Vincent's "Northern Lights" was so fun to watch, it would have been nice to see more interaction between the two of them. Perhaps next time they're in town, they can consider a vocal duet without that backing band for a song or two. (Can you imagine how good their joint take on Talking Heads' "Heaven" or St. Vincent's "The Bed" would be?)

Of course, that's assuming the collaboration will continue. Fingers crossed that it will.

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