David Byrne's live show: the highlight of the year

Last night I saw David Byrne's "Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno" tour at London's Barbican Centre and was absolutely blown off my feet, through the seat, out the door, and six miles into the sky.

I've been a Talking Heads fan since I was 13, and I've seen Byrne perform four times before, but nothing to top last night's show, which featured a huge number of performers -- three backup singers, three dancers, two percussionists, various guitar players, a keyboard, a bass -- and the sweetest, goofiest, most lovely choreography since Stop Making Sense.

Byrne and co performed a mix of tracks from the fantastic new disc Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, made in collaboration with Brian Eno, along with an eclectic mix of earlier Eno collaborations, including songs from My Life in a Bush of Ghosts, and a ton of old Talking Heads songs (including some non-Eno tracks like Burning Down the House).

One of my least favorite interview questions is, "What's your favorite __________?" (book, blog, movie). I always reply, "If I was the sort of person who had one favorite, I'd have written a single blog post about it and stopped -- but instead, I've written 40,000 posts."

But there is one unequivocal favorite in my pantheon: my all-time favorite performer and musician is David Byrne. From Talking Heads to his remarkable solo career, I have never heard a Byrne project I didn't like (for a real treat, go hunting in the treasurehouse of Luaka Bop, the world music label he curated, through which I first discovered Tom Ze, Gilberto Gil, Fifi, Tete Y Popo, Gal Costa and many the other musicians whose work never fails to move me).

So last night's show was a fabulous treat. From the opening -- Byrne giving his benediction to photographers, despite the dire warnings on the programs -- to the closing -- three encores, each sweeter, more fun, and more wonderful than the last -- it was nearly two hours' worth of absolute musical joy. I got up and danced -- along with the entire audience -- despite the fact that I never dance. I wasn't the only non-dancer moving in the crowd. It was a proper nerdstock, full of people proving out the aphorism that the best dancer is the one who's having the most fun (I recently re-watched Stop Making Sense and realized that virtually all of the ridiculous things I do when I dance come straight from that movie).

Speaking of dance, the dancers on-stage were stupendous. The choreogr aphy, like that in Stop Making Sense, was at once graceful, playful, beautiful and informal, accessible even to philistines like me. After a year on tour, the entire ensemble meshed perfectly, and the dancers, singers and musicians traded off vocals, movement and instruments with ease.

The old Byrne and Talking Heads standards are as familiar to me as daydreams, songs that have worn grooves in my brain through repetition, but nevertheless, each performance brought out some nuance, some new interpretation I'd missed until now. And, of course, "Heaven" made me tear up as it never fails to do.

Byrne and co have just a few dates left here in the UK. I have no idea if they're sold out or not, but if you can get a ticket, go. Last night was the highlight of a year full of highlights.

DavidByrne.com - Tours

My pictures from last night


  1. “if you can get a ticket, go.”

    I can not possibly agree more. I saw Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno when they were touring here in Australia and was similarly blown away.

  2. “And, of course, ‘Heaven’ made me tear up as it never fails to do.”

    I know what you mean. The song seems extremely sarcastic, the bit about how your favorite song is playing and when it ends, it starts over again. To be served up only what you know and like seems more like Hell. The image is spooky and depressing, and somehow moving.

    “It’s hard to imagine that nothing at all
    Could be so exciting, could be this much fun.”

  3. Saw this show in Amsterdam on Sunday night at the Melkweg. Was absolutely delighted to hear “I Zimbra” early on in the set. Possibly the best thing about it was how happy the band seemed with the crowd and vice versa. Warm and wonderful night.

  4. +1

    Saw them in Utrecht a couple of weeks ago. Amazing stuff. The calm, the integrity, the charisma. It’s not “getting away with it” like many newer bands and performers aim for, but pure “owning it”.

  5. Indeed. Saw them in April, the last time they were in the UK. Splendid show.

    I don’t really care all that much for the new disc – it’s a bit too mellow for my taste – but by the end it was as funky as I could hope.

  6. I saw him play in Auckland, New Zealand earlier on the same tour. Such a Show! Loved every minute of it.

  7. I’m glad to see that David is still going strong. The show sounds like a must-see. Every time I watch “Stop Making Sense” I am astounded by the creativity and excitement, and also the sheer pleasure of making great music.

  8. I definitely enjoy Byrne, but I’m WAY more into Eno– I’m just not seeing him in any of the photos! Did he perform as well?

  9. Aw man I can’t believe he played Bristol and I didn’t even know he was there. hat’s a definite lowlight. :(

  10. He was nice enough to have Amnesty International come and set up a table with petitions and folders in the lobby (one of his recent downloads benefits Amnesty). At 7.25pm, almost everyone had gone in and we settled in to wait for the end of the concert, but then someone came up with a spare ticket and gave it to us! So I got to see the first half of the concert before swapping out with another volunteer for the second half.

    I’d never heard any of the songs before, but was immediately hooked. It’s obvious that this guy is an old pro and just knows his stuff. The choreography with the dancers — and sometimes the backup singers — was indeed mind-blowing stuff.

  11. That looks fantastic. I’ve seen David Byrne live twice – once on the Feelings tour, and once on the Look Into The Eyeball tour – and both shows were amazing and about as different from one another as they could have been. Great post, Cory.

  12. I’m going to come back and read this when I know it won’t make me viciously jealous / bitter.

    David Byrne is the god-damned fucking man. Doubly so when Eno is involved.

  13. I saw this show in Atlanta last September.

    It was like a religious experience to me.

    Amazing, amazing show.

  14. I’ve taken to playing “This is the place” in the middle of hip hop dance parties.

    The opening synth line is so intense and when the beat comes in in that popping sound (pap PAP) I lose my shit.

  15. Byrne kicked off this year’s celebrate brooklyn concert series with this show. I knew it’d be packed, but it was BEYOND packed- it was like the entire city was trying to cram into this one small park area. The line was so ridiculously long, it literally disappeared into the woods. The show was like a huge, collective exhaling of old and young hipsters hungry to just feel good again. I was surprised at how many 20-somethings there were, as everyone under 30 I had mentioned this show to was like “David Who?” Am I really that old?

    He did a bunch of encores, too- I thought we were special, but then I learned this is standard for every show on the tour. Still an amazing night, with “Birds” being my personal highlight… I’d never heard that one live…

  16. Saw him in Vancouver with my bro. Crowd went nuts – at least half of them danced through the entire show.

    I danced through the whole show wearing a Holter monitor.

    Your review was right on.

  17. We saw Byrne and his crew at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. I was a big Talking Heads fan through the 80’s, but didn’t follow Byrne so much in the 90’s on.

    Try to catch several shows a year from small to large venues around the bay.

    This show was a top 5 All-Time live music experience. Many of the descriptions above do a great job describing the show. Amazingly, it wasn’t a sold-out show! A sign of the economy, no doubt.

    I really hope they put out a film of this show/tour.

  18. He is a true artist. He mentions in his journal on davidbyrne.com that his show was only possible in certain venues through subsidies from the promoter U2 gig. He is thankful to them but wonders if money from The Claw could be better spent. Personally, I think he proved you don’t need a multi-million pound claw to prove your creativity. DB can do it with a few dancers, some office furniture and, of course, the tutus.

  19. Temporary, I’m so disappointed to see your comment. I’m in the Bay Area, and I hadn’t done anything about getting tickets to see the Greek show. I’d assumed that it would have sold out and that I missed the boat. And you’re saying it didn’t sell out? Sigh (kicks self).

  20. Tickets weren’t cheap…but the last few shows I’ve seen at the Greek didn’t sell out…Amazing venue.

    Forgot to add the encore addition of the Extra Action Marching Band, filing down several aisles from the top of the Greek through the pit to the stage, then joining Byrne and band for Road to Nowhere….

    5 stars all the way around, sorry ANYBODY had to miss it.

    My partner stayed home at the last minute due to a visit by a relative.

    She’s kicking herself too!

  21. Cory

    The choreography is by Noemie Lafrance. She also choreographed Feist’s 1234 video, and is currently doing a tour in which dancers performa atop Frank Gehry buildings throughout the world.

  22. I saw this show last winter in WILMINGTON, DELAWARE, USA (not the hotbed of the new and original in music) and am still smiling. Did they put on the tutus? HOW DID I GET HERE?

  23. I saw David Byrne at his free concert in Prospect Park, Brooklyn on June 8. Basically everything you said I heartily agree with. Back in the 80s we used to drive 2 hours to an art house in Chicago to watch midnight screenings of Stop Making Sense. I must have seen it a couple of dozen times and it never got old. The combination of Talking Heads’ performance with Jonathan Demme’s brilliantly unobtrusive direction hooked you within the first five minutes and held you for the entire film. I would take newbies to see it and they were always impressed by the joyful reaction of the audience, whether or not they ever became Talking Heads fans. It was great to see Byrne and his group reprise a lot of Talking Heads songs, as well as the newer songs. He still has that odd combination of naivete and absurdist sophistication that is so interesting, but it is always infused with a genuine love of music and an uninhibited desire to just make noise. If anyone has the chance to see David Byrne in concert, definitely go. You won’t be disappointed.

  24. Couldn’t agree with you more, Cory. I was there too, and in addition to it being the best show I’ve seen anywhere in a long, long time, it was such a brilliant crowd. I loved how everyone seemed to decide, en masse, that it was time to dance. I only wish they’d decided as unanimously in the Circle… not that it stopped me.

    “My name’s Dave. I’ll be your waiter.”


  25. Saw him at Bonnaroo and he was absolutely my favorite performance there. It blew me out of the water.

  26. All of you who got to see this — I am so envious! I remember seeing the Talking Heads on the ‘stop making sense’ tour. (early ’80’s) I wasn’t familiar with them much and when this nerdy guy came out on stage, turned on a boom box and began the show I was puzzled….by the end of the show I was hooked and have loved DB ever since. Got to see him a couple more times…but I will never forget him dancing with the lamp… and the big suit. It blew me away.

    Recently I watched the movie version of the same show…still awesome and relevant after all these years. Then had to get ‘True Stories’ again…which I am still going around with the songs in my head from…and loving it. I really think more of us should have paid attention to what DB was saying…He is a genius!

    Thanks for sharing this and your pics!!!

  27. Cory: Glad you finally caught this tour! I have been commenting to this effect every time you guys have posted anything about Mr. Byrne for a year now. As a longtime T-Heads fan who caught the Speaking In Tongues Tour (x2!) which became the film Stop Making Sense, I can attest that he is back in top form again, and playing my favorite material from both the T-heads canon and both collaborations with Mr. Eno. He’d be a fool not to release a DVD of this spectacular tour.

  28. Wow, what a review. The show sounds great, especially as I’ve been getting more and more interested in/impressed by Byrne and the Heads. I just saw Stop Making Sense a few weeks ago on TV and the posts that keep popping here on BB have me quite convinced.

    And thanks to Cory’s link I can look and see whether I can get tickets to a show near me, if any. Hey! He’s playing right nearby … lessee, what’s the date … ah, last April!

    Curses. Schnargelfrackensmag! Prishmerkrackferpukk!

    (* longs for the good old days when I was only a day late and only a dollar short *)

  29. Saw this tour when they hit Austin, TX for the Austin City Limits Music Festival last year. I thoroughly enjoyed their set! You should go see them in your area when you have the means!

  30. We saw David Bryne in concert in New Jersey last fall and were totally blown away by the energy of the performance as well as in the audience. Immediately bought tickets when we heard he was playing at the Greek Theater (outdoors) in Berkeley, CA last month. Many pieces were the same and there were terrific changes as well. I realized how much of my philosophy of life was inspired by the music and lyrics of David Bryne. And nothing beats hearing songs from “Remain in Light” live! What a show… Don’t miss him if he comes to your area!

  31. I saw the show in Bristol earlier in the year, and heartly concur – it was wonderful.

    Folks might also be interested in Mr Byrne’s “Playing the Building” installation which is currently set up in the Roundhouse – Sophie Raworth of the BBC interviewed him about it (and she obviously got a huge kick out of having a go!) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/8192034.stm

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