Byrneing Down the House

Although I’m not quite so infatuated as this reviewer, I do agree with her headline–the man is just brilliant. Not only does he continue to make great music that’s never played on the radio (his new album, Grown Backwards, is the best thing he’s done since Talking Heads, but don’t expect to hear it on your local adult contemporary station–they’re too busy with Cheryl Fucking Crow), but he also is one of the few entertainment stars whose blog is actually worth reading.

The most impressive thing is that I’ve seen him four times, and every time’s been completely different. The first was at the Greek Theater in Berkeley under a full moon for the Uh-Oh tour. He was touring with a huge band, including horn section and percussion, opened with a not-yet-released song called “Buck Naked,” did almost no Talking Heads tunes, threw condoms into the crowd, and was generally all polyrhythmic and sexual. The second time was in the Warfield in S.F. for the David Byrne CD, that was a straight four-piece in black turtlenecks, with a percussionist handling all keyboard tones via some kind of MIDI inputs on what looked like vibraphones; intense, trippy, and a bit uncomfortable, sort of like Fear of Music, with plenty of old Heads songs. The third time was at the Pier in Seattle a few years ago for the Look into the Eyeball tour, wearing coveralls like a bunch of garage mechanics and rocking out like a straight up rock band, and he absolutely shredded it on the guitar.

This time he combined the percussion/keyboard thing with a six-piece string section and a bass player, Paul Frazier, who made me want to put down my bass and stop pretending. He was really chatty and a bit absent-minded and nervous–I think he might have smoked some surprising Seattle kind before the show. Lots of freaks in the audience–a group of kids with blazers and huge sunglasses who I think were tripping, an old gay punk with a seethrough vest and leather and metal-studded belt, a dude with a tuxedo top, shorts, and black-and-white-striped leggings. Highlights included a long string intro for “Life During Wartime,” a long string-based jam during “Blind,” and the opener, “Glass, Concrete, and Stone,” which has got to be the best song he’s done in years. My only disappointment is that he didn’t play much from his earlier solo records, but with almost 30 years of music under his belt, he had to leave something out. Anyway, if he’s coming to your city, check him out…I think he may be entering that second late-life peak like Neil Young did around the time of Freedom.

For what it’s worth, he did not do “Burning Down the House.” In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him do that song in a solo show.


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