David Byrne is the kind of performer that causes you to scratch your head when considering your expectations for one of his concerts. Will he pull a Bob Dylan and render old favorites abhorrent and unrecognizable? Is he, ala Dr. Frankenstein, ashamed of the creations that made him popular? What will he say about his former affiliation with his Band that Shall Not Be Named?
The answers: no, no, and well, if you don't have something nice to say… Byrne exceeded any and all expectations, delivering a show that was so incredibly high energy that the audience was barely able to contain itself in its seats. Seattle danced, people. DANCED. We are a city notorious for being stoic at best at the best of concerts. Byrne’s spectacular musicians and the high quality of the Eno-collaborated songs were so infectious that people popped out of their seats like something had bitten them. The ushers were hard pressed to keep the happy pandemonium under control, initially, and, by the end, had given up entirely.
Byrne and his band entered the stage in all white, a striking appearance combined with his white hair and guitar against the stark black of the stage, and the effect came across as almost clinical. He greeted the crowd cordially, and said, "You may take photos if you like, but if you're going to post them, you may only post the attractive ones."
He briefly outlined what he would be playing and explained the connection between him and Brian Eno, then very slowly and deliberately said "And there will be some major exceptions," alluding to non-Eno Talking Heads discography, with a coy cock of an eyebrow. He declared himself "your chef and waiter" for the evening, and with little fanfare, launched into "Strange Overtones."
If there were one word to aptly describe the live David Byrne experience, it would be precision. His stage presence, juxtaposed with his music is singularly focused and intense. The music, sounded and felt free and loose; Byrne himself was not. He was, by far, the best dancer on stage, despite the fact he had professional dancers accompanying him. His tight, angular movements complimented the tension and barely controlled hysteria of his vocals. His carriage and demeanor were incredibly restrained, like a wind-up toy, waiting to be set in motion. The band, backup singers, and dancers surrounding him moved and sang with abandon, moving around him, with him, and even doing the "trust exercise" with him, but he remained centered and driven in his purpose to deliver the perfect show. This is not to say that he didn't appear to enjoy himself immensely, however, and seemed genuinely touched that the audience was so enthusiastic and receptive.
The stage show itself was a feast for the eyes. The stark white costumes were the perfect compliment to the brilliant light show behind the band. Rich, deep reds, greens, and blues lit the drum sets, back up singers, and Byrne himself, and appeared carefully planned to accent each song. In addition to the musicians and backup singers who joined him on stage, Byrne was accompanied by 3 dancers. Initially, they were an exciting addition, and it was amusing to watch Byrne dance in synch with them. They performed well-orchestrated, beautifully choreographed pieces where they "stabbed" each other with mike stands ("I Zimbra"), music box twirling ("My Big Nurse") zombie walking ("My Big Hands [Fall Through the Cracks]"), and even a nod to Stop Making Sense during "Once in a Lifetime," but about halfway through, they became rather repetitive and distracting.
At times, they swarmed Byrne, which made it difficult to see him, and frustrating to enjoy. The encore launched into complete and total insanity with the addition of San Francisco's Extra Action Marching Band, a scantily clad group of musicians (also in all white) and dancers / cheerleaders / flag twirlers wearing little more than silver sparkly boyshorts, headgear, and pompoms. The full effect of the stage show was revealed when the houselights were turned up for "Burning Down the House." Nearly every member of the audience was bathed in light and euphoria as they shimmied, fist pumped, and shouted the lyrics back to the stage.
The finale was decidedly less frenetic; Byrne opted end to his second encore with "Everything That Happens," stripping the stage of colored lights and dancers. It was a sweet moment, and one could feel the palpable connection between the audience and the performer and the reticence of either to end the evening. As the audience left their seats, however, they were greeted in the foyer by the Extra Action Marching Band, who continued the party late into the evening at the Comet.
Byrne's voice was warm, resonant, and filled the entire space with little effort. The manic nuances of songs like "Once in a Lifetime" and "Help Me Somebody" were softened by the richness of songs like "Heaven," and "Everything that Happens." The set list was well organized, and again showcased Byrne's precision. He was careful to counterbalance high-energy, faster tempoed music with the slower, more rhythmic pieces. The crowd's response was tortured restraint. Initially, they were patient, bobbing their heads to the faster, tribal rhythms, then occasionally popping up to dance, and being quickly reseated by the ushers. As the evening went on, more people shot up and did not return to their seat.
By the time Byrne started to play the classics, the crowd roared with excitement, exploded out of their seats, and continued to applaud for so long after each song, that it seemed impossible for them to begin the next. Nearly everyone visible had a giant smile on their face and knew every word to every song. What was really remarkable about the evening in its entirety was the exuberant, beatific glow that emitted from the majority of the audience as they exited the Paramount. There were many instances of people exclaiming "Oh my GOD!" and little else. It was truly, if you'll forgive the terrible pun, a once in a lifetime performance.
Set List (May be slightly out of order)
- Strange Overtones
- I Zimbra
- One Fine Day
- Help Me Somebody
- Houses in Motion
- My Big Nurse
- My Big Hands (Fall Through the Cracks)
- Moonlight in Glory
- Life is Long
- Crosseyed and Painless
- Once in a Lifetime
- Life in Wartime
- Encore 1
- Take Me to the River
- The Great Curve
- Road to Nowhere
- Burning Down the House
- Final Encore
- Everything that Happens