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In Heaven with David Byrne

February 21, 2009

Boy am I dumb. I was excited about going to last night’s David Byrne concert at the QE Theatre, but I made a false assumption. Because the show was billed “Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno”, I assumed he would stick to songs from the two albums he’s released with Eno: last year’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, and the 1981 classic My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.

I got it half right. Byrne and his band did quite a few tunes from the new album. I think he only did one song from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts: “Help Me Somebody”. It would have been challenging to do much more, because as Byrne pointed out during the concert, he and Eno didn’t actually sing on that way-ahead-of-its-time album. It featured samples of otherworldly Arabic singers, fire and brimstone preachers, exorcists and other found sounds. I still have my copy on vinyl.

What I forgot about is that Eno produced and collaborated with the Talking Heads at their prime, and material from that era could fit under the theme of songs by Byrne and Eno. As it turned out, Byrne and band performed songs from the three Eno-produced Heads albums: More Songs About Building and Food (“Take Me to The River”), Fear of Music (“I Zimbra”, “Life During Wartime”, “Heaven”) and a bunch from my favourite Remain in Light (“Born Under Punches”, “Crosseyed and Painless”, “The Great Curve”, “Once in a Lifetime”, “Houses in Motion”). They even did one post-Eno song, “Burning Down The House”, which Byrne kind of had to do because it was the Talking Heads’ biggest hit.

Talking Heads

It’s hard to describe what it felt like to hear these songs, which were such an important part of my 80s life soundtrack. I saw the Talking Heads once, in 1983 at the Pacific Coliseum, and I’ve seen Byrne as a solo artist about three times since. But I never thought I would hear these tunes live again, and performed with such vitality. Byrne’s vocal strength hasn’t diminished; his guitar playing is still wonderfully catatonic. The band locked into sinuous grooves. Byrne and the three backup singers (plus bassist Paul Frazier who sings) worked up gorgeous harmonies. The three dancers were a bonus. By the end it was a euphoric dance party. My idea of Heaven.

Thanks to BunkleLife for this fun video of “Burning Down The House” (the tutus were a nice touch):

Addendum: Here’s what Byrne blogged about Vancouver.

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