Royal Festival Hall, London 13th April 2009
David Byrne is currently on something close to a world tour to promote the album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today – his collaboration with producer supremo (and sporter of the most fabulous hairdo of the ’70s) Brian Eno. New York art rock enfant excentrique, David Byrne first manifested in the music scene with his band Talking Heads and he and Eno have a long collaborative history going back some three decades. Eno produced three Talking Heads albums in the late ’70s and with Byrne released the wildly in uential, proto-sampling, African- flavoured My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts in 1980. The third Talking Heads album, Fear Of Music released in 1979, still sounds vital and edgy and contains some kicking dance floor fillers. By the time Talking Heads came to an end in 1988 Byrne had already amassed a barrel-load of side projects, ranging from composing contemporary ballet scores and lm soundtracks to directing and starring in the lm True Stories and becoming a champion of obscure Brazilian pop. Since going solo, his subsequent multifaceted artistic output is simply mind-boggling.
With all that in mind, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to see a performance that was anything but your average 45-minute set. Byrne’s sharp and humorous opening banter set a good tone for the night and within five minutes he had beguiled a full house at the Royal Festival Hall with his steely, intense charisma and kooky dance moves. The set was a mix of old and new, the biggest chunk comprising songs from the new album with a few Talking Heads numbers bedded in nicely. What really made the evening a brilliant event was the choreography, with three contemporary dancers complementing Byrne’s own unique way of moving. With his guitar strapped on, he often took part in the dance moves, as did his three backing singers. The feel was ineffably New York, kind of early ’80s avant-garde (appropriately), with sparse yet intricate and repetitive movements that sometimes gave the feeling of watching a film running backwards. A third of the way through the set, people started to get off their seats and left down towards the stage to dance. As the gig drew to a close the whole auditorium was up and moving – a rare sight at the sober RFH. The feel good factor was palpable; in fact it was almost unbelievably euphoric, like gorging on your favourite food and then going in for seconds. When I listened to Everything at Happens… prior to the gig, I wasn’t bowled over – its laid-back sound didn’t immediately grab me; but to see the show confirmed the white haired but still boyish Byrne’s brilliance as a performer. He does it not only through his music but by incorporating a very strong visual element and exuding an incredibly infectious stage persona. He’s funny, he’s moving and he’s kind of freaky in the best possible way.
The uninitiated should check out Byrne’s incredibly comprehensive website, which lists everything from art installations to tour dates. You can listen to the new album for free too. Visit www.davidbyrne.com and click on journal. It’s a very entertaining blog.