David Byrne at the Shrine Auditorium, Saturday August 25th 2018
Last night, David Byrne moved on the cleanest stage I have ever seen during a show! Surrounded by immaculate bead curtains, the large stage of the Shrine looked absolutely empty when Byrne arrived alone, as there was absolutely nothing on it, except for an oversized brain placed on a small table.
As he seemed to tell us during the rest of the show, music is cerebral and physical for David Byrne, a dichotomous view of the same phenomenon, with a connection between the two which still holds a part of a mystery. But the brain went first, as he opened the show with a rendition of ‘Here’ while holding the plastic cerebellum in one hand, like a modern version of Hamlet holding a skull. The lyrics of the song were dissecting the brain with a scientific precision: ‘Here is a region of abundant details/Here is a region that is seldom used… Here is an area of great confusion/Here is a section that’s extremely precise’, a strange introduction to an otherwise very dynamic rock show, but strangeness has always been Byrne’s territory. After this surreal mind-body introduction, the rest of the show brought an extensive band on stage, between 11 and 12 people, constantly moving with their wireless instruments, giving an amazingly fluid performance, an angular ballet of musicians and dancers wearing matching grey suits, and carrying their instruments (from keyboards to drums) strapped around their bodies. Once you get rid of the brain, literally, the body is set free, and even though the result got a bit sweaty and disheveled after an hour, the energy was incredible and the ambiance euphoric, with each member of the band playing an enormous variety of music instruments, drums, and percussions of many style, mixing an organic ethnic vibe with a top-notch modernity.
Since that instant, the band never stopped moving in a unique and amazing choreography, looking like a Broadway show on steroids, with a Cirque du Soleil envy – I even spotted dancers wearing a Cabaret-like makeup. Coming from each corner of the stage, the musicians and dancers were bumping into each other in an organized chaos, sometimes following Byrne like a leader, sometimes ignoring him. They posed and clustered, ran all over the place in opposite directions and reassembled again, like a brilliant and buoyant swarm flying around their utopic chief, who sometimes got the jitters, jumped or even fell down. ‘I’m working on my dancing/This is the best I can do/I’m tentatively shaking/You don’t have to look’, hurled David during his new song ‘I Dance Like This’, but we were all looking and cheering.
During all this time, there was so much arm and leg movement, that the choreography was participating to the music as much as the instruments. A joyous and intoxicating energy took over the large crowd, which had filled up the Shrine auditorium to full capacity, barely interrupted by David reminding us to vote.
Besides several new songs of his last album ‘American Utopia’, he revisited several Talking Heads songs, even some very famous ones (‘This Must Be the Place’, ‘Once in a Lifetime’, ‘Burning Down the House’) with his magical marching band. All set-long, everything was extremely focused on percussions and drums, with a result sounding like a Brazilian carnival… so it doesn’t come as a surprise to read they did numerous dates in South America. Their cover of Toe Jam (Brighton Port Authority cover), a song he recorded with Fatboy Slim, was the apotheosis of that exact vibe, a joyous ballet of drums triggering a happy dance party.
I can’t say I have listened to ‘American Utopia’ a lot, but the new songs were blending marvelously into the old material, as he was crooning over synth-pop tunes with unpredictable tempo changes, fusing into world music with a stage reinvention each time, and different and original lighting emphasizing the tone of the song. Each part of the show was eye-and-ear candy, with great attention given to details and a real organic vibe combined with an excellent execution – David insisted that there was no recording involved in the show, ‘There’s nothing wrong with it’, he added, ‘but we don’t do this’, insisting that all the music was played live.
Of course, ending the show with a second encore and a cover of Janelle Monae’s protest song ‘Hell You Talmbout’ interpreted with visceral percussions and powerful voices, reminded us the true power of art, as all the members of the band were standing in a line, holding drums and chanting the names of black Americans who have been killed by police.
It should be noted that twin sisters Naomi and Lisa-Kainde Diaz, who perform under the moniker Ibeyi, had opened the show with a similar approach, playing a moving all-voice-and-percussion set, with cathedral-like harmonies and jungle fever rhythms, ‘You are angels’ had screamed someone to the two French-Cuban sisters who, by mixing traditional textures with a hip-hop energy, were the ideal warm-up for such a show.
Maybe you could reproach to the show like this a lack of improvisation, it has the flawless execution of a Las Vegas-strip show, and the band has probably been doing more or less the same setlist for the many shows of their gigantic tour – they have been touring the world since March and will play till the end of this year! This is an impressive and ambitious tour, choreographed to the perfection with a robotic precision, certainly not foreign to the Talking-Heads man. But you could see the show multiple times and still find new details each time, there was so much going on at the same time on this amp-free, wire-free, instrument-free stage. It was chaos invading a vacuum, and it was beauty making sense of chaos, thanks to the stop-making-sense man.
I Zimbra (Talking Heads song)
Slippery People (Talking Heads song)
I Should Watch TV (David Byrne & St. Vincent cover)
Everybody’s Coming to My House
This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) (Talking Heads song)
Once in a Lifetime (Talking Heads song)
Doing the Right Thing
Toe Jam (Brighton Port Authority cover)
Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) (Talking Heads song)
I Dance Like This
Every Day Is a Miracle
Like Humans Do
Blind (Talking Heads song)
Burning Down the House (Talking Heads song)
The Great Curve (Talking Heads song)
Hell You Talmbout (Janelle Monáe cover)