According to the witty book, The Rock Snob’s Dictionary, by David Kamp and Steven Daly, Brian Eno is an “egghead producer and electronics whiz with appropriately futuristic name and aerodynamic pate.” Eno made celebrated solo art rock and ambient albums starting in the 1970s, plus groundbreaking contributions to the music of Roxy Music, Robert Fripp, David Bowie, U2 and The Talking Heads, among others.
It was Eno’s work with Talking Heads’ frontman David Byrne that was celebrated in Byrne’s stellar concert Saturday night at the Arlington Theatre, billed as “The Music of David Byrne and Brian Eno.” And what a body of work to celebrate, from The Talking Heads’ Eno-produced primitivist Afro-funk from the albums More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music and Remain in Light, to Eno and Byrne’s seminal ethno-sampling-over-electro-funk masterpiece My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, to their brand-new respectable folk-electronic-gospel album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.
Well, to call Saturday’s show a concert is to undersell it. This was a Performance with a capital “P,” which included a two-women-one-man dance troupe whose playful choreography and interactions with the musicians provided a fascinating visual complement to the music played by Byrne on guitar and lead vocals backed by a drummer, percussionist, keyboardist,
bassist and three background singers. Strikingly, all performers wore matching white jumpsuits. Byrne was animated throughout, and seemed genuinely appreciative of the audience’s adoration.
The dancers made their first appearance for the second song of the night, “I Zimbra,” during which they held the microphone stands in various comical configurations for the background singers. In “Houses In Motion,” Byrne alternated facing left and right along with the dancers in a high-energy rendition that received an enthusiastic standing ovation from the crowd. Dancer Steven Reker even leapfrogged over Byrne during the bubbling “Once in a Lifetime.”
The audience also danced, but with revelrous abandon, especially during the more rhythmic Talking Heads songs. These included “Houses in Motion;” “Crosseyed and Painless;” “Life During Wartime,” which, ironically, claims there is “no time for dancing;” “Take Me To The River;” and, in a departure from performing songs to which Eno contributed, “Burning Down The House” from the album Speaking In Tongues.
The crowd was more subdued during the pleasant but less-familiar songs from Byrne and Eno’s new album, the bulk of which was performed. This album is currently only available as an online download or as streaming audio, but will soon also be released on CD. One treat was to hear the song that I surmise from the lyrics to be “Never Thought,” which is dominated by an E-Bow-sustained guitar run and that will apparently only be available as a bonus track on the Deluxe Edition of the new album. Amusingly, after the track “One Fine Day” off the new album, Byrne noted that the song’s phrase “everything can change one fine day” could come true on Election Day, Nov. 4. He didn’t specify what change he advocates — no doubt the talking heads on television are ably covering that discussion for now.
Although Byrne provided the necessary guitar textures and rhythms to drive the songs forward, I missed the more experimental guitar contributions made to the Talking Heads’ studio cuts by Adrian Belew on the songs on Remain in Light, and Robert Fripp on “I Zimbra.” Also missed were more tracks from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, whose only representative was “Help Me Somebody,” for which Byrne spoke the part of the preacher on the album track. Given the heavy sampling used on this album, it makes sense that it might be difficult to replicate the songs live. But one still wishes the band would “stop making sense” here, and figure out a way to pull it off.
But these gripes are minor. What a joy to listen, watch and dance to the music of David Byrne and Brian Eno!
One Fine Day
Help Me Somebody
Houses In Motion
My Big Nurse
My Big Hands (Fall Through the Cracks)
Crosseyed and Painless
Life is Long
Once in a Lifetime
Life During Wartime
I Feel My Stuff
Take Me To The River
The Great Curve
Burning Down The House
Everything That Happens Will Happen Today