(I managed to string together four consecutive weekends of awesome music experiences. This one took place in Auckland on February 14th.)
Seeing David Byrne is something I've had a chance to do before, and avoided. I'm a huge Talking Heads fan - STOP MAKING SENSE is firmly in my top ten albums of all time (will post full list if anyone cares), and he's had his solo moments, but the idea of seeing him do stuff from just the solo albums seemed like it had to be, necessarily, disappointing.
But when the latest tour was announced, and songs from classic-era Talking Heads albums like FEAR OF MUSIC, REMAIN IN LIGHT, and SPEAKING IN TONGUES was guaranteed, I decided it was worth taking the plunge (even springing for a flight to Auckland).
What I didn't know at the time I bought my ticket was that David Byrne had just realized what would turn out to be my second favorite album of 2008. With the help of Brian Eno, EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS WILL HAPPEN TODAY knocked me in the stomach with an unexpected helping of heartfelt emotion when I first put it on; combining gospel and soul elements with Eno-style electronics and plaintive Byrne melodies, plus an emotional directness to the lyrics. Go find "Home" somewhere if you can. It was the song I was most looking forward to by the time the concert rolled around, even more than any Talking Heads material.
"Home" did not get played. That this was barely a disappointment is partially due to the fact that I'd snuck a peek at a previous set list, but it was largely due to the fact that, apart from a great selection of material, the show was one of the best concert experiences of my life. Byrne came with, in addition to a standard backing band, three backing singers and three modern dancers. In general, the choreography of the dancers was very relaxed and naturalistic; evocative without being incomprehensible, and often deeply playful. Byrne would seem to stand alone from the antics, but then would have his legs positioned just right to allow a dancer to slide through, or turn his back just in time for a dancer to springboard off it, or fall backwards and let a dancer catch him.
(A side note for Talking Heads fans: it's amazing how much Byrne has changed as a performer since the STOP MAKING SENSE days. I love that movie, but Byrne is the inscrutable intellectual at the center of it, standoffish, making it seem that everything is quite deep, never admitting pleasure. These days, while Byrne hasn't lost his sensibility, he's deepened it with a straightforward joy, smiling often, taking simple pleasure in what he does. I can understand someone saying they don't "get" STOP MAKING SENSE; I can't understand somebody saying they didn't "get" this show.)
Is it heresy for me to say I enjoyed this more than I would have enjoyed a hypothetical Talking Heads reunion show? Possibly. But no Tom Tom Club, no late-era mediocrities included for the sake of balance, no simmering resentment on stage, and a whole new collection of great songs (including some, like "I Feel My Stuff", that really came alive on stage in a way they didn't on record); and I still got up to dance to "Burning Down The House". Plus we got "Once In A Lifetime", "Heaven" (with special guest Neil freakin' Finn), "I Zimbra", "Houses In Motion", "The Great Curve", "Life During Wartime", "Take Me To The River", "Crosseyed and Painless" ... and left with the sad beauty of "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today", a lullaby to a night of joy that left us speechless.