David Byrne Sunday, October 12th, 2008 Temple Buell Theater, Denver Better Than: Byrne has been in several years.
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, the 1981 collaborative album between David Byrne and Brian Eno, should be required listening for anyone attempting to incorporate non-Western music and samples into their own compositions. For this tour Byrne played selections from that pioneering work as well as a good deal of Talking Heads classics mixed in with choice cuts from his most recent album, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. Eno himself was playing some dates on the tour but not Denver, unfortunately.
The stage setup at the Buell was an exercise in simplicity, even though the band had three dancers and eight members (including Byrne) manning two full drum sets, one a standard rock set and the other an African setup. Byrne opened the show with “Strange Overtones,” a song from the new album, that found the former Talking Heads frontman singing with greater power and confidence than he has in a long time. The previous time I saw one of his shows, he was good but this was a rejuvenated David Byrne performing with a vigor that suggests that he’s discovered what makes him happy and he’s embracing it. For “One Fine Day,” I was certain he was going to play an older song because he brought out his old red acoustic guitar, but it was certainly no disappointment to hear new material from one of the man’s better albums of late.
Prior to performing “Help Me Sombody,” Byrne explained to us that a long time ago, he and Brian Eno had recorded the album using mostly “found sounds that are now called samples,” but that the band would perform the song anyway. It was during this song that the use of gels or colored lenses on the lights was well designed. Sometimes the background took on a particular color or array of colors and the band, all dressed in white, would be another color contrasting or just plain spotlighted to appear normal. Byrne has been known to put together the lighting set up but whomever was responsible made for a visually lush and riveting stage show above and beyond the performances.
All the songs were performed with a great deal of enthusiasm and theater, and Byrne played like he’d lost thirty years in the last few, down to the weird swaying hop he did while singing and playing guitar toward the end of the show. Perhaps the best performances of the evening included the almost performance art rendition of “I Feel My Stuff” and the far too apt and relevant “Life During Wartime.”
After fifteen songs everyone left the stage, but because the crowd was so enthusiastically receptive, Byrne and the band did a triple encore including a song they had worked up to perform with a marching band in San Francisco. From the beginning notes, Byrne brought down the house with a rousing performance of “Burning Down the House” and undoubtedly left everyone feeling lucky to have witnessed such a superlative display of each of the twenty songs of the set. David Byrne was clearly having fun and we were fortunate enough to be along for the ride. -- Tom Murphy
1. Strange Overtones 2. I Zimbra 3. One Fine Day 4. Help Me Somebody 5. Houses in Motion 6. My Big Nurse 7. My Big Hands (Fall Through the Cracks) 8. Heaven 9. What I Am Is What I Want to Be (?) 10. The River 11. Crosseyed and Painless 12. Life is Long 13. Once in a Lifetime 14. Life During Wartime 15. I Feel My Stuff
1. Take Me to the River 2. The Great Curve
1. Home 2. Burning Down the House
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1. Everything That Happens
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and Remain in Light are cornerstones of how I think about music. Random Detail: Taking pictures was strictly prohibited. By the Way: Paul Jansen of (die) Pilot was my real-time set-list consultant when my own memory failed me.