By Andrew Barker
When David Byrne and Annie Clark (who records as St. Vincent) first announced they were working on a collaborative album and tour, it was both unexpected and unsurprising. Though separated by a generation, Byrne and Clark are both blessed with similar degrees of nonchalant virtuosity, casual adventurousness, and occasional difficulty reconciling their substantial eccentricities with standard commercial songcraft. The latter attribute is pronounced on the twosome’s September album “Love This Giant,” but was nowhere in sight during their wonderful two-hour set at the Greek Theater, which showcased a warm, continually thrilling meeting of two kindred spirits.
That Byrne and Clark (60 and 30 years old, respectively) should display such effortless onstage chemistry was hardly a given. “Love This Giant” was composed over two years, with the ex-Talking Heads legend and current indie ingenue emailing song concepts back and forth, and at times it sounds like it, filled with intriguing individual ideas that don’t always cohere.
But during Saturday night’s show, the rough edges were ironed out brilliantly, and the two tackled nearly all of “Giant’s” tracks with calm mastery while also dipping into their respective catalogs. By the time the pair performed a song-long synchronized dance to Byrne’s “Lazy” mid-set, it was easy to imagine they’d spent years touring the casino circuit as the world’s weirdest father-daughter lounge act.
Surprisingly, that dance routine was one of many. Backed by an eight-piece brass band that remained in constant choreographed motion — circling the stage, mobbing the two headliners, lying down on cue — Clark and Byrne both indulged in some peculiar grooves. Byrne, sporting a wireless headset microphone, seemed eager to join the band in their drill squad routines during Clark’s turns on the mic. Meanwhile Clark — wearing an eye-catching cocktail dress — tittered across the stage with ballerina-style stutter steps, and at one point set down her guitar to break out a slow-motion robot dance.
If such frivolity seemed at odds with the dense, cerebral contrapuntalism of the songs on display, it nonetheless provided them with some welcome color. “I Am an Ape” and “Weekend in the Dust” were smoothed out into imminently danceable jams, “Lazarus” left hints of vintage Tom Tom Club pop, and the St. Vincent tune “Northern Lights” culminated with the two dueling over a shared theremin.
Though he clearly has the deeper discography of the two, Byrne was the most willing to cede center stage to his partner, and Clark for her part has rarely been in stronger voice, her cut-glass soprano reaching to the heavens on “Cruel,” then plumbing smokier depths on “Cheerleader.” (Her angular, eruptive electric guitar playing, however, was less pronounced than usual.)
Byrne, who long ago traded the typical rock and roll lifestyle for a cycling habit, seemed like a walking advertisement for clean living. Hearty, hale and handsome with his gleaming white blazer, suspenders and hair, his voice betrayed zero strains of age, and when he tore into “Strange Overtones,” his soft, plaintive, yet commanding register was a marvel to behold.
For its second encore, the band dusted off the Talking Heads classic “Road to Nowhere,” and Byrne and Clark took places with the band in a conga line that snaked around the stage, exchanging glances, smiles and giggles. Whereas so many male-female musical pairings have a sort of erotic or competitive charge, these two simply seemed to be sharing the same private joke throughout, and this made all the difference. Rather than the fickle winds of passion (or the hard calculations of synergistic marketing strategy), Byrne and Clark’s project was clearly born of creative curiosity and mutual admiration for one another’s art. The pop music world could use more partnerships like these, and more from this one as well.
David Byrne and St. Vincent
Greek Theater; 5,900 capacity; $75 top