By Kai Flanders
David Byrne and St. Vincent
Better than: … hoping against hope that a Talking Heads reunion tour will happen.
Criticizing David Byrne is difficult. It’s not just that he’s such a seminal artist to a lot of people, nor that he’s prolific and brainy: publishing the book How Music Works through McSweeney’s and giving TED talks in addition to consistently releasing music, never mind this little thing called Talking Heads. It’s the fact that he’s so completely earnest. In a time when irony is more common than reverb, it’s hugely refreshing that Byrne isn’t frivolous about what he does, that he is constantly attempting instead of snickering. Even when he misfires, you never feel slighted.
His show this Saturday with St. Vincent in support of their recent collaboration Love This Giant at Williamsburg Park (the heart of the ironic smirk, as it were), succeeded largely because of this quality of earnestness. It was an almost goofy affair with presentation reminiscent of a musical and choreography that included bizarre hand motions. But the show’s tongue wasn’t in its cheek; rather it was fully extended as the two charismatic leads belted out over 20 songs.
They opened with the two first tracks off of Love This Giant, “Who” and “Weekend in the Dust.” Annie Clark and her wild frizz of hair took center stage while Byrne sort of floated around her. He never really had a singular position during the show–eschewing the constraints of singing from a standing microphone allowed him to weave around the horn players as he danced. Just as it is on the album, the brass section was one of the highlights of Saturday evening: powerful, soulful, and big sounding.
After an outstanding take of “Strange Overtones” from Byrne’s 2008 collaboration with Brian Eno and a couple of St. Vincent songs, they launched suddenly into “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody).” To put it simply: people lost their shit. For someone who never got to see Talking Heads live it was a special moment, special enough to actually use the word “special” at the risk of making myself sound like an aunt who has had one too many glasses of wine.
It wasn’t the only Talking Heads song they played–they capped their encores (there were two of them) with “Burning Down the House” and “Road to Nowhere”, respectively. Both had the entire park yipping and grooving, but perhaps the song that had the place the most captivated was St. Vincent’s “Cheerleader.” As Clark hammered away there was absolutely nothing frail about her, though she can’t weigh much more than a hundred pounds. And this is not news to anyone, but she absolutely rips on guitar.
During another one of Clark’s guitar solos, Byrne did a sort of spastic robot dance, almost in semi-worship of her. It was sweet, it was dorky, it was a little silly, but it was entirely sincere. We all clapped for him and then went home and took a gander at ourselves in the mirror.
Personal Bias: I think I might be a Stop Making Sense era David Byrne for Halloween this year, if I can find a suit that’s big enough.
Overheard in the Crowd: “I need an Annie Clark in my life in a major way.”
Random Notebook Dump: Byrne earned serious props from every hopeful musician in the crowd when he introduced each of the live players and plugged their respective projects.
“Weekend in the Dust”
“Save Me From What I Want”
“I am an Ape”
“This Must Be The Place”
“The Forrest Awakes”
“Like Humans Do”
“I Should Watch TV”
“The One Who Broke Your Heart”
“Outside of Space and Time”
“Burning Down the House”
“Road to Nowhere”