Last week I saw David Byrne perform at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. It was perhaps one of the best concerts that I have been to in my life. Byrne recently released a new album with long-time collaborator, Brian Eno, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.
The present tour is meant to promote this new album (his first since 2004), but the setlist included songs from other collaborations with Brian Eno as well as familiar Talking Heads standards. The live performance of Help Me Somebody (from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts) was particularly remarkable. David commented on how the voices they used for My Life in the Bush of Ghosts were originally called "found vocals," but now are commonly referred to as samples. In this song the lyrics were provided by a track of an evangelical preacher. Since, for a concert, playing a recording would have been uninteresting, and the original interlocutor is probably not available, David sang the emotionally-charged, rhythmic sermon himself. In a word, incredible.
Also incorporated into the concert were the customary back-up vocalists and also three very conceptual dancers. I think that these artists actually made the most significant contribution to the vibrancy and vividness of the night. Frequently, their movements were visually disjointed or even somewhat nonsensical, but so in many ways is David Byrne's music. By the end of the show I was able to make more sense of how the two artistries were interrelated. A segment with the dancers simply lounging in swiveling office chairs was almost mesmerizing.
There were a few irregularities in an overall brilliant performance: the vibe of the concert was not consistently energized and the space was cramped and kind of weird (the Michigan Theater mostly plays movies). I think there was a significant number of people who were there for only Talking Heads and didn't care for the new stuff (some of which is my favorite). But by the end of the concert people were mostly up and about and dancing. It was pretty cool to see a wide range of ages of fans of David Byrne. The elevated median age probably accounted for some of the uneven energy, but I think that this was superseded by the fact that this demographic diversity testifies to the longevity of the musician and his music.
Considering that David Byrne probably won't be touring much more in the future, this was a pretty poignant and memorable experience for me.