A recent gig to see David Byrne on his ‘American Utopia’ tour at the Birmingham Symphony Hall immediately reminded me of an earlier oil painting I made of the great man. I thought I’d give it an airing and revisit him and his old band, Talking Heads. This image was when he was lead singer with Talking Heads around 1979, and I just had to paint it. It was also about the time they released one of their finest albums ‘Fear of Music’.
On this tour, Byrne himself is in good form, more comfortable in his own skin than ever before. The show, Samuel Beckett minimalism meets London Palladium variety revue, has no drum kits, amps or PA system on view. The band 12 strong, barefooted and in matching suits move around the stage with their instruments strapped to their bodies. Backed by excellent lighting, heavily choreographed and with a quirky upbeat mood throughout, Byrne has deconstructed the modern live performance while at the same time embracing existing modes of stage performance. This is no small feat, and Byrne’s claim that this is his most ambitious tour feels spot on. Here’s a link to a snippet of it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vlNvQkT_c8
This tour follows in the great tradition of David Byrne as art pop rocker, collaborating on films and in theatre. However, there is still the legacy of Talking Heads not only in some of the old songs performed. In the 1970s and 1980s Talking Heads were an intellectual art school dance band. They fused post punk, new wave, krautrock, afro, funk, and an avant-garde sensibility crossing over into pop. Lead singer David Byrne was an anxious, nervous, arty oddball, “borderline Asperger’s” by his own recent admission, but constantly looking to reinvent his music. They produced one of the finest and slightly left field rock concert films in recent history “Stop making sense” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKKgwuAoshA. Give it a look but stick with it.
Whatever your view on the band and their music, it worked and was quirky. Taking the mundane and suburban, Byrne used the classic artifices of juxtaposition and counterpoint in his lyrics to make a point or not. He continued this throughout his career with Talking Heads even when they became commercially successful. Citing life giving air as painful, taking happiness as something mundane or viewing the world from the point of view of a psychopath or urban guerrilla, his take on events was never obvious.
He’s back on tour in the UK in October and November. Enigmatic with a good back catalogue as well as new stuff, I’d recommend trying to catch him.