David Byrne | 11.09.08 | D.C.

Words by: Josh Klemons | Images by: Hippies Are Dead

David Byrne :: 11.09.08 :: Warner Theatre :: Washington, D.C.

David Byrne :: 10.07
Seeing a legend for the first time can be a hard thing to do. There is no guarantee that someone who has been around long enough to earn the nomenclature is still the same person that first burst onto the scene so many years ago. It’s easy for someone at this level of their game to simply become complacent, to rely only on their old, known work, to stop pushing the envelope in the ways that put them into the limelight in the first place. That is what I was thinking about when I went to see David Byrne touring in support of his new album, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today at the Warner Theatre. The album is yet another in the long string of collaborations between Byrne and famed producer Brian Eno. But of course, one does not rise to the level of legend without reason, and while some may turn towards complacency others are never ready to stop exploring themselves and their endless possibilities. Needless to say, Byrne did not disappoint.

The show was sold out and the crowd excited. When Byrne took the stage, the electricity was palpable. He was dressed in all white, as were his band – a bassist, drummer, percussionist and keyboard player with three backup singers. He took the mic from the stand and started the night by introducing himself and the concept behind this tour. It would not be limited to songs from the new album but would incorporate music from all of the different records Eno and he had worked together on over the years. These included 1979’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and three Talking Heads albums: 1978’s More Songs About Buildings And Food, 1979’s Fear of Music and 1980’s Remain in Light, and throughout the night he played from all of them.

Along with his solid band, three dancers accompanied Byrne. The choreography was beautiful and bizarre, as if anything that David Byrne does could be otherwise. Three choreographers are listed in the credits for this tour, but clearly they were all working from inside of Byrne’s head. This was not a Madonna kind of show. At times, the one guy and two girls danced alone but at others they incorporated the three backup singers into the experience. Byrne was as much a part of the movements as one might expect. He does his hopping and flopping around. Sometimes he dances like Elvis with a nervous tic, other times he just runs in place. The lights went out between every song, which gave the ensemble the ability to start out each number fresh, without us witnessing the preparations. Although everyone except the drummer and keyboardist stood most of the performance, at one point the lights came on and everyone was sitting. The dancers and Byrne were in the front of the stage in large desk chairs. The choreography was exquisite; they used the chairs in ever-interesting ways. Steven Reker, the male dancer, spent part of one song jumping over the girls’ shoulders. Then Byrne moved to the middle of the stage, and in the middle of one of his signature funky guitar solos Reker jumped right over him and his guitar. This could have been a Broadway show in some other weird dimension.

David Byrne :: 10.07
The venue was lush and beautiful. The crowd got to their feet once early on, delivering a standing ovation after “Houses in Motion.” But, this was a sit down show. That is until the band jumped into “Crosseyed and Painless” about halfway into the set. From that point on, the crowd was up and dancing in a way that the Warner Theatre probably does not see very often. They did a stirring rendition of “Heaven” and a solid take on “Once in a Lifetime.”

They closed the set with a track off the new album called “I Feel My Stuff.” The lights came on to reveal Byrne and all three singers and all three dancers in a bizarre formation crouching down in the front of the stage. The light was refracted and broken. Visually and musically, this song could have been a dream after a late night spicy meal. The movements were quixotic; the choreography could have come from outtakes of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The song was ethereal and screamed of Brian Eno. The piano, ever present throughout the show, was now demonic and the backup vocals were eerie, if not outright frightening. It ended the set, but was far from the end of the evening.

Over the course of three encores, they played five more songs including “Burning Down the House” and “Take Me to the River.” The final encore was the new album’s title track. The backup singers had been involved in the dancing throughout the night, but now suddenly, for the first time, there were three more mic stands onstage. The three dancers were stoic for this track and sang like angels. There were no drums, and six backup vocalists accompanied Byrne’s lead vocal. It was a stunning end to a night full of surprises. After their fourth group bow, each delivered with a new twist, they bid us farewell.

David Byrne is on tour now, dates available here.

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