name of this man is David Byrne: Byrne performs at the
No Foolin’ Around
Egg, Nov. 5
Over the course of more than 30 years, David Byrne has managed
a rare feat. He has succeeded in the popular music marketplace
but has not been trapped by it, maintaining his stance as
an artist. His latest tour finds him playing venues that,
for the most part, are smaller than what he could fill, but
that allow him to maintain tighter control over the sound
and present his 11-piece troupe on worthy stages.
Last week’s concert at the Egg was the night after the election,
an event Byrne acknowledged with his opening words, “I woke
up this morning to a different America.” This was met by cheers
from the sold-out crowd, as further comments revealed that
he and his international band had been receiving happy and
congratulatory e-mails from friends and family around the
The concert was titled “Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno,”
and it opened with “Strange Overtones,” from the new Everything
That Happens Will Happen Today. It’s a testament to the
clearly delineated sound mix, and to the smart pacing of the
set, that eight songs from the new collaborative album with
Eno were performed, especially since the album is currently
available only as a download, and will not be released as
a physical CD until later this month.
With the second number, the full cast was assembled across
the stage when the tour’s three dancers emerged to the opening
notes of “I Zimbra.” Byrne on guitar was part of a five-piece
band (keyboardist, bassist, drummer, percussionist). Three
singers stood to his right, adding percussion and occasional
acoustic guitar. And everyone was dressed in white—not matching
outfits, but the varied possibilities of white clothing.
Given the evening’s theme, all of the dozen and a half selections
were from works in which Eno participated. Besides the new
release, these songs first appeared on My Life in the Bush
of Ghosts, The Catherine Wheel and the three Talking
Heads albums Eno produced (More Songs About Buildings and
Food, Fear of Music and Remain in Light).
The varied crowd was a mix of well-heeled professionals and
purposefully casual hipsters. The main thing most appeared
to have in common with each other, as well as with Byrne,
was having been born in the ‘50s. Beyond that, there were
significant differences, largely in the realm of art vs. nostalgia.
Two-thirds of the way into concert, audience members were
encouraged to their feet, and unfortunately they remained
standing for the rest of the night. I could see some in attendance
re-creating Byrne moves from 20 years ago, most notably his
hitting-myself-in-the-forehead from “Once in a Lifetime” and
seen in the film Stop Making Sense. This is where Byrne
the artist comes into focus. He is more about reconsidering,
reinventing and reinterpreting than simply re-creating. As
he sang in “Psycho Killer,” “Say something once, why say it
Byrne is an artist, but he also understands the dynamics of
showmanship. From the beginning he’s known to surround his
tentative manner and slight physique with funky rhythms and
theatrical flair. Every aspect of this current tour is perfectly
considered and executed. The showman in him made sure it was
an unforgettable night, while the artist elevated it to an
even more potent level, because the next time he comes back
he’ll do something different.
Boy Next Door
MoCA, North Adams, Mass., Nov. 8
Jim White is now more than a decade into a recording career
that didn’t start until he’d already turned 40. So it’s no
surprise that the focus of his music is not the stuff of a
young man’s hopes and dreams. His songs are full of questions,
longings, regrets, and the concerns of a middle-aged man.
Last Saturday at Mass MoCA he was singing and playing his
guitar, fronting a trio with Pat Hargon on electric guitar
and Byron Isaacs on bass and background vocals.
In a curious bit of reverse engineering, White started the
night by talking before the first song and offering up somewhat
oblique observations. By the end of the set, some 90 minutes
later, he’d stripped away the idiosyncratic constructions
in favor of heartfelt wishes of happiness for everyone in
attendance. I’m not sure if this was by design or just his
wandering way, but had it been the other way around, we’d
have been getting to know him upon a more traditional foundation.
The night’s tilt may have been exacerbated by the intimacy
in his delivery being in conflict with the room’s acoustics,
which made it hard to make out all that he was saying and
singing. But hearing adjusts, and things became clearer by
dint of familiarity. The real turning point was at about the
half-hour mark when he removed his tractor-driver style baseball
cap, which had been casting his face in shadows. It was as
if by making his head available to be seen, his voice came
into sharper focus as well.
White’s songs are draped in the Southern gothic hues of religion
and redemption. These are then scuffed by the weather-worn
shoes of folk art and situated on the floor of a drunkard’s
homemade shack, with its exclusively unsquare corners. However,
given that layering, his songs are really quite traditional.
Sure, Jesus drives into town in a motor home, but in terms
of melody and verse-chorus-verse construction, they’re downright
catchy. His voice is free of any Waitsian barbs or guttural
punctuation, making him sound all the more normal as he delivers
some of his more fractured lyrics. He sounds like a long-lost
neighbor boy, now grown up, but into the man that it somehow
makes sense he became.