David Byrne | 06.26.09 | Berkeley

Words by Nick Boeka | Images by: Josh Miller

David Byrne :: 06.26.09 :: Greek Theatre :: Berkeley, CA

David Byrne :: 06.26 :: The Greek
David Byrne is the kind of visionary artist where a simple label is irrevocably a denial of the character and stature that he has built for himself and embodies. The outspoken and wildly charismatic Talking Heads leader and alum, Byrne has continued his infatuation with the wittier and finer things in life, and has shown attention and passion on an incredible array of projects. However, constant throughout his career has been his excellent songwriting and live prowess. In his latest album and tour, Byrne collaborated again with Brian Eno to deliver Everything That Happens Will Happen Today and a tour, "Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno." At Berkeley's Greek Theatre, Byrne promised the crowd, as he approached the mic and took note of his surroundings, that the evening would "be filled with Greek Tragedies – Euripides," and that he would play "some new stuff, some Eno stuff and break the rules a bit with some other things that I did back in the day." He brought the flippy floppy and burnt the house down well before the end of his set for a devoted, appreciative audience that pleaded for more.

David Byrne :: 06.26 :: The Greek
A sunny afternoon in Berkeley provided the perfect backdrop for opener Denver's, Devotchka to remind the Bay Area of their hipster honky-tonk sound. Gaining more notoriety after ten years of playing together, Nick Urata leads the band with vocals that have an eerily hypnotic tone, which is amplified by his infectious strummed chords and the rest of the band's setup. You have Jeanie Schroder switching from upright bass to sousaphone, providing atonal and repeating lines, and Tom Hagerman reaching for his violin and accordion, creating a tremendous amount of sound up front. Then there is Shawn King, who runs around switching between drum kit, trumpet and what I would call "music bin instruments," while also triggering samples and backing tracks. The result is a musical soundscape that makes you feel like a gypsy on your own personal journey, and judging by the crowd's reaction as their set came to a close, they are starting to pick up some new additions to their traveling pack.

As the sun set nicely over the distant horizon and up came the city lights, I was anticipating something great from Byrne. What else could I expect from the person who this year was given the first opportunity to curate his own stage at Bonnaroo, and has hosted Sessions @ West 54th, won countless awards and used his label, Luaka Bop, to introduce the world to incredible artists? The stage was quickly set in a configuration that left much of it open, with a sole microphone front and center for an all-white dressed Bryne. This setup made more sense when opener "Strange Overtones," a track off the new album, unfolded and dancers Lily Baldwin, Natalie Kuhn and Steven Reker appeared, also in all-white, and engaged Byrne throughout the rest of the performance in interpretive dance of the highest form. In fact, for a large part of the evening, the show was more theatrical than most concerts, performed with utmost precision and a delivery that is only achievable with a seasoned and top-flight ensemble of artists. Lighting was minimal, focused and directly complimentary to the placement and bareness of the stage presentation.

Even early on, when the focus was mostly on new material, the crowd was very engaged, and showed so much support that after "Houses in Motion" Byrne quipped, "Wow, I should think about moving the band to out here." Much of the remaining main set seamed like a time warp to early '80s Heads, with fans of Stop Making Sense lapping up hit after hit. And when the band came on for the first two-song encore, I was expecting the show - despite being early - was over.

David Byrne :: 06.26 :: The Greek
As the folks next to me gathered their belongings and the beginnings of a line of exiters started to form, Byrne and the band reemerged. Byrne thanked us again, and queued the Extra Action Marching Band to make their way to the stage. Scantily clad, white hot pants and all, they overtook the stage and helped lead Byrne and company through "Road To Nowhere" and finally "Burning Down the House" accompanied by a white balloon drop.

It may be that this evening marked the last night of the successful U.S. tour and Byrne was looking at a nice break before heading to Europe or perhaps it was the relentless energy the crowd showed, grabbing and throwing balloons around, but Byrne came hustling back to the stage and motioned his tech to return his microphone (which they had already removed). He treated the audience to an acoustic rendition of Everything that Happens's title track. The sound was crisp and the repeating lines of the chorus were left ringing in my head: "Everything that happens will happen today/ Every tomorrow will be yesterday." I think I know what he means, and feel good that I was there to learn it from him.

David Byrne :: 06.26.09 :: Greek Theatre :: Berkeley, CA
Strange Overtones, I Zimbra, One Fine Day, Help Me Somebody, Houses in Motion, My Big Nurse, My Big Hands (Fall through the Cracks), Heaven, The River, Crosseyed and Painless, Life Is Long, Once in a Lifetime, Life During Wartime, I Feel My Stuff
First Encore: Take Me To The River, The Great Curve
Second Encore:Road To Nowhere, Burning Down the House (both with Extra Action Marching Band)
Third Encore: Everything That Happens

David Byrne is on tour now in Europe, dates available here. JamBase | Northern California
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[Published on: 7/3/09]

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