BYRNE THE MUSICIAN VS. BYRNE THE ENTERTAINER
“Hello, People of Orange,” David Byrne iterates plainly to the Segerstrom Concert Hall audience. The no-frills greeting brings forth a low-thrills evening devised to promote the album Love This Giant, his collaborative effort with St. Vincent (Annie Clark). Swapping their trademark eclectic, electric, guitar-centric rock for horn-heavy, stiff funk, the surprisingly inventive results are ultimately enjoyable, but may be for a very limited audience of Byrne die-hards and musicologists: Die-hards have unwavering fealty no matter what product is released, purely craving another experience with their god; musicologists separate the performance elements involved and focus instead on the songs themselves: the structure, arrangement, and intricacy of the pieces. If you find yourself in either of these camps in regards to David Byrne and St. Vincent—you will enjoy this show. As an evening of entertainment, it is technically accomplished and musically proficient, but by consciously detaching from the audience and going through the same exact motions through the set list, the audience is unjustly served an experience that is sorely lacking as a concert.
The set list is comprised of material primarily from Love This Giant with a few songs from their respective solo offerings, and of course, from David Byrne’s former band Talking Heads. There is movement designed to support and elevate the off-kilter music, but for Byrne and his band, it is flaccid and inorganic, somewhat like elementary school children who are told to dance, and do so with their bodies but not their being.
St. Vincent, however, steps out of the mechanical, terse mold with her Jagger-esque jittery feet and soulful spasticity reminiscent of Joe Cocker. When she is on stage she is vested in each moment. A shining example comes towards the end of the night while singing “Cheerleader” off her album, Strange Mercy, with mesmerizing ferocity and intensity. Her spidery guitar work is usually a prominent force, but here, it takes a backseat to the 10-piece band: 8 of whom play horn and reed instruments (keyboard and drums round out the rest).
David Byrne’s voice is still in fine form, showcasing his dexterous breadth of ability with striking falsettos and rich baritone. In spite of his voice’s fine condition, the fiery encore performance of “Burning Down the House” is keyed down a step. Otherwise, Byrne lacked a much-needed energy and enthusiasm: If you have seen his performance of “Slippery People” in Stop Making Sense, it’s clear that the two men are tragically different. The earlier Byrne overflows with vibrancy and feeds off the energy of the audience, propelling the band to go further with him. The Byrne at Segerstrom Hall is detached from the audience, moved only by the band behind him.
There are two special moments where Byrne and St. Vincent join together as a sinuous, symbiotic whole: one involves a theremin freak-out, and the other is singing the final encore, the Talking Heads classic “Road to Nowhere”: Their harmonies meld best on this one, and everyone including the band gets lively snaking around the stage in a conga line.
The pairing of these ubiquitous New York City indie-rock icons is a result of their mutual admiration for each other’s work and mutual desire to take their songwriting to the next level. Because of this unlikely duo’s exceptional solo credentials, and because they have created a uniquely hypnotic album, it is disappointing to bear witness to a stage event that is unworthy of the output preceding it. Byrne writes articles and books on how the music industry has evolved and how important it is to embrace it and adapt accordingly. While he may have intelligent strategies for emerging artists to successfully sell records, it is unfortunate that he has not adapted these strategies to the production of succesful stage events.
An Evening with David Byrne & St. Vincent
Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall
played Friday, October 12, 2012, but continues on tour
for Love This Giant tour info and tickets, visit http://lovethisgiant.com/
for info on upcoming events at Segerstrom, visit http://www.SCFTA.org