Hey, is there always this much dancing at the Lyric Opera House?
On Wednesday night, the beautiful old home of the Baltimore Opera Co. hosted Byrne’s second date of his sans-Eno tour behind Everything that Happens Will Happen Today, the superb new sci-fi country gospel album they’ve created via the Interwebs, working from opposite sides of the Atlantic. (It’s currently a download-only release; CDs to come later. Meanwhile, you can stream it in its entirety here.) It’s not every day, or even every decade, that a pair of probable geniuses like David Byrne and Brian Eno make a record together — in fact, it’s been 27 years. There was some overlap in their duties, but broadly speaking, Byrne wrote and sang the lyrics while Eno composed and performed the music.
Both Eno and Byrne can sometimes come off as remote eggheads, but Byrne’s staging of their album (plus material from the three classic Talking Heads albums Eno worked on, along with one from their influential 1981 experiment in pre-digital sampling, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts) was as ecstatic as a concert can be, with Byrne fronting an ensemble that included two drummers, three backup singers. Beginning with “I Zimbra,” the mercilessly polyrhythmic second number, a trio of dancers appeared, offering a visceral “sight-track” to the music more captivating than any bombastic laser show. Byrne was a sometimes a prop and sometimes a graceful participant in their choreography — dancer Steven Reker leapfrogged over Byrne’s head during while the latter scratched out a rare, fiery guitar solo on “Crosseyed and Painless.” The dancers weren’t just eye candy, either: A routine performed on office chairs during “Life Is Long,” for example, underscored the tune’s observations about the balance of joy and tedium woven into even the most prosperous of lives.
Now 56, Byrne is doing the most open-hearted singing of his career, and the acoustically pristine Lyric was an ideal venue for the rich, mature timbre of his voice as well as the rubbery groove of his ace band.
The crowd warmed to the new songs, which with their major keys and soaring choruses were communicative even if unfamiliar. But predictably, it was the Talking Heads classics that pulled everyone from their seats and into full, shameless, lights-off flail. When the still-striking “Once in a Lifetime” slid into the jagged paranoia of “Life During Wartime,” the building shook for reasons far happier than the urban guerilla combat the song so chillingly imagines.
At 95 minutes, the show could have been longer, and began a bit unsteadily, with Byrne walking onstage to deafening cheers — and then proceeding to gab about his memories of seeing Ravi Shankar and Rahsaan Roland Kirk play the Lyric for several minutes before he finally lit into “Strange Overtones,” the bounciest of the new songs. An hour an a half later, he gave us a heartbreaking take of the title track to send us home. His entrance may have felt a bit tentative, but the guy sure knows how to make an exit.
A shorter version of this review was published in the Sept. 19, 2008 Paper of Record. Also, Friend of Snake Oil Kyle Gustafson shot the show for Pitchfork with his usual apolomb.
David Byrne at the Lyric Opera House, Baltimore, Wednesday, September 17, 2008
01 Strange Overtones*
02 I Zimbra
03 One Fine Day*
04 Help Me Somebody
05 Houses in Motion
06 My Big Nurse*
07 My Big Hands (Fall Through the Cracks)
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*
16 Take Me to the River
17 The Great Curve
18 Everything that Happens Will Happen Today
*from Everything that Happens Will Happen Today
Lily Baldwin – dancing
Kaïssa Doumbè Moulongo – background vocals, dancing
Paul Frazier – bass
Redray Frazier – background vocals, dancing
Mark De Gli Antoni – keyboards
Graham Hawthorne – drums
Natalie Kuhn – dancing
Jenni Muldaur – background vocals, dancing
Mauro Refosco – percussion
Steven Reker – dancing
Byrne – voice, guitar, dancing