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.
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