June 25th, 2009 5:33 pm | by Music | Posted In: Columns, Live Cuts

Live Review: David Byrne, Tuesday, June 23 @ the Schnitz

david_byrneAfter nearly two hours, legendary oddball David Byrne had more than given his audience at the Schnitz its money's worth. Clad in white from hair to toe, Byrne blasted through a selection of his work with immortal producer Brian Eno, which includes two solo collaborations and three of the Talking Heads' best albums. He brought with him a sizeable band, complete with three backup singers (including Portlander Redray Frazier) and three decidedly unconventional backup dancers, who interacted with the frontman throughout the show. Following a hyperkinetic encore of Remain in Light's "The Great Curve," Byrne got his fifth standing ovation of the night, and remained on stage grinning, before silencing the audience and saying “Wait...there's more.”

That's when the back doors burst open and out marched San Francisco's Extra Action Marching Band. Yes, a full-ass marching band, scantily clad and full of energy (the band later played the Crown Room). The crew took to the stage to join Byrne and his brood for an awe-inspiring rendition of “The Road to Nowhere,” a perfect fit, given the song's strong harmonies and horn-friendly repetition, over which Byrne issued his trademark guttural screeches as the audience pulsed. (the song, it's worth noting, was the only song on the setlist not produced by Eno.) The newly mutated group followed with a wild take on Heads classic “Burning Down the House,” with the band wailing and its nearly nude dancers letting it jiggle.

That Byrne, after three decades of notoriety as the statesman of art rock, can still build a show to such a crescendo is a testament to his status as one of the preeminent entertainers of his generation. Byrne famously built his show from the ground up in the excellent concert film Stop Making Sense, and on his current endless tour he takes similar action, though with slightly less flashy tactics (which, given the explosive nature of the show, says a lot). Before opening with the appropriately funky “Strange Overtones” from the recent Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, Byrne explained that the band had been on tour for almost a year, “but somehow missed the Land of Port.” He then took care to make up for lost time, nailing “Overtones” before blasting into the Heads' afro-rock favorite “I Zimbra.” Before launching into the decidedly insane “Help Me Somebody,” Byrne felt he had some ‘splaining to do. The song is from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a 1981 experiment in which Byrne and Eno used found sounds (“They weren't really found. We were looking for them,” Byrne quipped), which, in essence, paved the way for modern sampling. The album contains no vocals by Byrne or Eno, but for the live performance, Byrne turned into a man deranged, taking on the personality of a psychobilly southern preacher (as per the song's sample) as the band raged during what could be the show's hardest rocking song.

As the show progressed, three white-clad backup dancers intermittently took the stage for high-flying, bizarre antics. During a particularly hypnotic rendition of the psychedelic Heads rocker “Houses in Motion,” Byrne's legs parted as he played and the dancers went sliding between them, or vaulted over his shoulders. In one moment of sublime lunacy, they brought out wheeling office chairs for a coordinated dance with Byrne that, though consisting of little more than people sitting and spinning while floating across the stage, was somehow a quirky piece of bliss.

While songs from the two solo albums were fantastic, it was Byrne's takes on old Talking Heads (who he never mentioned) songs that stole the show, from the weird and creepy “Air” to megahits such as “Once in a Lifetime,” “Heaven,” and “Take Me to the River.” The highlight came during a three-song haymaker punch consisting of Remain In Light's most kinetic track, “Crosseyed and Painless,” a funked-out and decidedly more haunting take on the same album's “Born Under Punches,” and Fear of Music classic “Life During Wartime,” a pre-apocalyptic paranoia pop song that saw Byrne offering spurts of his trademark jogging in place.

The Schnitz ate the whole thing up. Fears before the show were that the place simply couldn't house dancing with its bolted seats and stodgy security guards, who spent the majority of the show walking the aisles and snapping at people whose feet crossed beyond the boundary of their seating area or threatening to remove people for dancing in forbidden zones. (One particularly curmudgeonly guard was observed scolding a nine-year-old girl who briefly stepped into the aisle to snap a picture.) But perhaps the guards' own fear of music was fully realized when the audience rose for “Houses in Motion” and simply refused to sit again, turning the venue into a sweltering fever dance for about 90 minutes of hyperkinetic movement.

Sound gushy? That could be because Tuesday night was among the best shows this writer has ever witnessed. It was the kind of show the venue—and indeed Portland itself, denizens of which represented at the show from multiple generations and walks of life—needed. When Byrne's endless tour finally ends, we can only hope he'll return for more of the same (and maybe add some songs from other Heads albums, as well as the excellent and highly danceable Latin album Rei Momo and the more somber Look Into the Eyeball). For Byrne remains the stuff of legend, and has no doubt given the world, if nothing else, new dance moves it can do while sitting in the office.

David Byrne

Photo of David Byrne found on the Internet. Andy was dancing too hard to take any quality pics.
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