field report no.050818

LOCATION: Thomas Wolfe Auditorium AVL.NC
SUBJECT: David Byrne

OBSERVATIONS:
David Byrne’s music has been a life-long companion, for me, but it’s been at least fifteen years since I’ve seen him live. Don’t ask me how I lived in NYC for so long and never managed to see him there (though I was lucky enough to enjoy his installation, Playing the Building). What I mean to say is I’m biased, at best. With that caveat , I’ve been describing seeing him this time around as life affirming. Not only was the show engaging—built around positive (but not passive) songs—it was future-facing visually ambitious. It’s rare to see an artist of such stature still striving.

Of course, David Byrne is not an artist given to nostalgia. The set list featured a smattering of Talking Heads songs (and not always the ones you’d expect). If you came looking for a greatest hits set (as so many of his peers are content to do), you’d leave disappointed.

They played (almost) the entirety of Byrne’s new album, American Utopia—which didn’t leave much time for the rest of his varied solo catalog. It provides an interesting view on what he considers canon, though: Like Humans Do and Lazy made the cut. Of the Talking Heads songs aired (especially The Great Curve and I Zimbra), were torn into with glee by the rhythm-heavy ensemble.

Every member of the band was in constant motion—made possible by a multi-piece, marching band-style percussion section. The stage was unadorned except for a tall, chainmail border curtain. Visually, it played with light cast on it. More practically, it allowed the band members to pass through it at any given point. Thoroughly choreographed, the staging (mostly) avoided feeling like interpretive dance, and never gave the impression of simply miming to pre-recorded tracks (it’s been pointed out in interviews that every sound is generated on stage).

While David Byrne doesn’t tour as often as he used to (and who could blame him), he never fails to present his work beautifully and thoughtfully. I left believing I’d seen, not a show, but an honest aesthetic presentation of artist in the present moment.

NOTES: David Byrne; Benjamin Clementine
PRESENT: AMS; Angela F.