For someone who never had the chance to see Talking Heads, David Byrne as a solo artist has been high on my list for a long time. So my expectations for tonight’s concert have probably been higher than what one can expect any performing artist to live up to.
The only seats I could manage to get five months or so ago when I bought the tickets are right in the middle of the bloody nosebleeds – not ideal. Still, the view is acceptable, and at least we get an overview of the stage (and choreography) which people in the stalls might not see as well as we can.
David Byrne comes on stage alone wearing a light grey suit and bare feet, topped off with that full white hair he wears so well. He sits down at a table, picks up a brain and, channelling Hamlet speaking to that infamous skull, Byrne starts singing at the brain as if he has a bone to pick with it – and why not?
A Grey Carnival
Then things get really interesting when the other musicians begin entering the stage. 11 in total (not counting Byrne), they wander in and out from behind the semi-see-through curtain throughout the concert. No one’s fixed to one spot on the stage; there’s no drum-kit, no microphone-stands, no keyboard-stand.
Everyone is wearing their instrument, just like they’re wearing their grey suits. It means there’s a lot of movement and very few static moments, giving the whole concert a carnival vibe – albeit a grey carnival rather than a conventional colourful one. Instead, the colours of the evening are provided through the liveliness of its participants and the wonderfully played songs; whether it’s the new material from Byrne’s latest album or old Talking Heads classics, and anything in between, every song is full of spirit.
The word ‘original’ is often misused, and maybe I misuse it now, but I genuinely believe this is an original concert. It certainly feels unique. The combination of a robust set of songs played to perfection in brilliant arrangements, the simple but effective use of lights, and the quirky and playful choreography. There’s a feel to this concert that I haven’t quite experienced before.
Any complaints? I would have preferred better seats, but there’s no one to blame for that. As for the setlist, are there songs I would have wished they’d played but didn’t? Why, of course. Isn’t that always the way? I think Road to Nowhere would have fit in perfectly. Could they perhaps have attempted a song from My Life In the Bush of Ghosts? But then there’s another angle. I enjoy appreciating songs I otherwise am not so keen on, but in this setting work brilliantly, like Lazy.
I’m not entirely convinced that ending the concert with their cover of Janelle Monae’s Hell You Talmbout is the best idea. It’s a great and poignant song that shouts out the names of people who have been victims of police brutality, and the song’s strong message is significant and undeniable. I wonder if the song’s statement may have appeared even more vital if it had been played a few songs sooner and not been the last song of the evening.
Perhaps it’s because it appears as an extra standalone song, and therefore doesn’t feel integrated with the set in the same way the other songs are. Maybe the point of playing it last and isolated from the other pieces is to force the audience to pay attention. Still, I think the song’s message would have come across as more vital if it had felt more like a part of the set rather than a separate afterthought.
But these are minor ‘complaints’. This concert is as good as a concert can get, and if I had any stars to give, I’d award it six out of five.
David Byrne setlist
3. I Zimbra (Talking Heads song)
4. Slippery People (Talking Heads song)
5. I Should Watch TV (David Byrne & St. Vincent cover)
6. Dog’s Mind
7. Everybody’s Coming to My House
8. This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody) (Talking Heads song)
9. Once In a Lifetime (Talking Heads song)
10. Doing the Right Thing
11. Toe Jam
12. Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) (Talking Heads song)
13. I Dance Like This
15. Every Day Is a Miracle
16. Like Humans Do
18. Burning Down the House (Talking Heads song)
19. Dancing Together
20. The Great Curve (Talking Heads song)
21. Hell You Talmbout (Janelle Monae cover)