David Byrne and St Vincent are touring Contemporary Color, a concert accompanied by a huge, choreographed color guard show.
The show, which plays Toronto and Brooklyn, includes guest performances from Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz and Money Mark, Tune-Yards, Nelly Furtado, and Ira Glass.
Like so much of Byrne's best work, Contemporary Color bridges the everyday exuberance of middle American culture with art-school cool, without resorting to irony or snobbish detachment. If you liked True Stories, you know what I mean.
From the get-go, Contemporary Color eagerly played up both color guard’s all-American appeal and its avant-garde potential. The 10 vignettes were framed by cheeky, faux-sportscaster banter and amusing behind-the-scenes videos, but this ain’t no glee club, or ROTC. Set to the throbbing goth pop of Brooklyn harmony duo Lucius’ “What’s the Use in Crying,” the opening number saw New York’s Shenendehowa HS wielding color guard’s traditional saber props in sinister tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, with rotating cylindrical platforms serving as crime-scene shower stalls, and the red underside of the dancers’ white skirts suggesting imminent bloodshed. Dev Hynes’ melancholic piano-ballad/disco hybrid “Black Watch” – translated with ballet-like elegance by the namesake Mount Laurel, New Jersey, team – presented wistful images of innocence lost. And it was no surprise that reigning freak-scene queen St. Vincent – her now-famous white frizzy mop reined into tight black curls – lorded over the evening’s most disturbing set piece, “Everyone You Know Will Go Away,” wherein West Chester, Pennsylvania's Field of View team appeared as inmates in a mental asylum, crying for help as the grid-like lines on the floor formed the imaginary cells that imprisoned them. But in its final moments, the song’s brooding, brassy build yielded to an exultant Bowie-esque outro, with a chorus refrain – “come on, you children!” – that transformed this meditation on madness into a triumphant call to arms.
As we learned through Contemporary Color’s increasingly poignant video interstitials, color guard serves a similar mobilizing function for its participants, providing a sense of community and sanctuary during life’s most awkward, painful phase. And through this diverse cast of characters – who comprise a true cross-section of different races, orientations, socio-economic backgrounds, and body types – we see a different, but no less meaningful, realization of the liberating DIY philosophies that once drew to Byrne to punk. (Likewise, the odd flubbed saber toss is easily forgiven by the obvious intensity on display.) Contemporary Color’s most engaging piece, “What Are You Thinking?” paid tribute to this fortitude: atop a bubbling post-rock pastorale composed by Nico Muhly, This American Life host Ira Glass interviewed Trumbull, Connecticutt, troupe Alter Ego about color-guard technique, their recorded quotes perfectly synching up with their IRL movements like a real-time DVD commentary track.
David Byrne, St. Vincent, Ad-Rock Blow Minds With Contemporary Color Show [Stuart Berman/Rolling Stone]