same as it ever was

"It's hard to imagine that nothing at all - could be so exciting, could be so much fun." - David Byrne, "Heaven"

"It's hard to imagine that nothing at all - could be so exciting, could be so much fun." - David Byrne, "Heaven"

I seem to remember hearing David Byrne for the first time early on during my first year at college. (1985, probably autumn.) I had left highschool with a taste for Coltrane and Bitches Brew,  King Crimson, Tangerine Dream, Mozart and Schoenberg.

My freshman roommate is the one who brought the more contemporary sounds of U2’s “War”, Dire Straits, OMD, and – the Talking Heads into our cozy 30’x50′ shared domicile. One turntable (hers – this is important), one set of speakers, no headphones. Definitely no iPod or portable individual listening equipment. So we shared music, often listening together while studying and, more often, eating pizza and avoiding studying. Not always loving each other’s choices but I think we both learned a little from that year together.

I could have lived without the Breakfast Club soundtrack. Fine a few times but much less endearing on a 3x daily basis, it turns out. (I note again: it was not my stereo.) REM was definitely not my thing, I found them to be so loud and un-nuanced. And Dire Straits – well, they were alright sometimes for lighter listening. I did love U2, and the Psychedelic Furs, and these were also two of my roommate’s favorites. Can’t say I ever would have picked that stuff up on my own. Her obsession with Floyd was just fine with me too, even when she inexplicably got stuck in a Meddle groove right around winter midterms.

But the Talking Heads: when I first heard Little Creatures, I knew we had really reached a different stratum of shared musical experience. The rhythms, the lyrics, the quirkiness of Byrne’s voice and phrasing: he was cool. And he was very much all his own artist.

He still is.

David and the energetic cadre of Byrne-ettes

David and the dancers

Tonight David Byrne opened his 17-stop US summer tour at The Green at Shelburne Museum. It’s a sizeable show, with four other musicians besides Byrne, three backup singers, and three dancers. The tour celebrates Byrne’s 30-year partnership with fellow innovator Brian Eno, and features a lot of music from their long history along with many from their latest collaboration Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. No “Jezebel Spirit” (I can’t get enough of that one, guess I’ll have to listen to the recording – again – ), but the set did include one other tune from their remarkable 1979 My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, when Byrne and Eno sampled and mixed before there WAS sampling and mixing being done like that.

The new music sounds fresh, Byrne’s voice is strong and flexible, and the few multi-instrument ensemble pieces they performed were outright magical. Also love the new  ‘do, straight up and platinum…even as I recall the line from Life During Wartime, “I’ve changed my hairstyle so many times now, don’t know what I look like…”

"Once in a Lifetime"

"Once in a Lifetime"

The dancing accompaniment to the music didn’t add much visual interest to the performance, unfortunately, at least not of the kind one hopes for. This impression is not based on the actual skills and energy of the dancers themselves, but rather from what appeared to be the distracting choreography they were strapped with. (I see that the tour employs three choreographers…hmm.) From tumbling around and crawling on the stage – in their dressy white outfits – to spinning around in office chairs and leapfrogging athletically over Byrne’s back – the scene kind of speaks for itself.  It’s a minor point to make, however, considering what an enjoyable show it was overall.

The  evening unfolded under a cool gray blanket of cloudcover, and while a starry sky might have topped off the experience to absolute perfection even without that I can really see why so many of my friends consider the Green one of their fave concert venues. The sound system is great, the setting is intimate but spacious enough for comfort (and for dancing!), and it’s beautiful. I’ll look forward to seeing many more shows there.

Here’s wishing Byrne & CO. a fun and successful tour (in the US through June, then on to Europe).

And thanks to Val, for that first introduction in our little dorm room with our (your) little turntable stereo so very many years ago.


[all pictures in this post by B. S. Dover]

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