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Paul Mann: David Byrne Returns with Latest Collaborator St. Vincent

David Byrne, the former fiery frontman of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers the Talking Heads, has constantly reinvented himself over the nearly four decades of his musical career.

David Byrne performs at Santa Barbara's Arlington Theatre on Sept. 25, 1979. (Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)
David Byrne performs at the Arlington Theatre on Sept. 25, 1979. (Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)

He first played Santa Barbara’s Arlington Theatre on Sept. 25, 1979, with the B-52s, in what may have been one of the best live shows I have witnessed there in the past 33 years. That show, at the forefront of the new-wave music movement, introduced many in the audience to a whole new genre of rock music.

Since the demise of that historic group, Byrne has embarked on a solo career, experimenting with a dizzying array of musical genres. His latest collaboration on his newest album, Love This Giant, features singer-guitarist Annie Erin Clark, better known by her stage moniker St. Vincent. She began her professional music career as part of the massive lineup in the experimental pop group Polyphonic Spree.

The group blended a choir, rock band and classical instruments into a modern version of classic ‘60s bands such as the Fifth Dimension.

Byrne and Clark enlisted indie producer John Congleton. Congleton has produced myriad musical acts, including the Polyphonic Spree. Not surprisingly, Love This Giant exhibits many elements that made the Polyphonic Spree so unique, including an array of classical horned instruments.

The show Oct. 11 at the Arlington featured the new ensemble who created the album. An array of horn players eight people strong, supplemented by a drummer and percussionist-keyboard player, made up the backbone of the group. Meanwhile, Byrne and St. Vincent fronted the group, swapping and sharing the lead vocal role.

Byrne exhibited the same intense glare that he had on the same stage 33 years prior, but his hair has turned to a ghostly white and he has grown a bit of a middle age paunch. The bulk of their nearly two-hour set featured mostly the new album in its eternity.

The music the band created had a sound reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk album, with the same grandeur as the marching band sounds featured on that 1979 masterpiece. But with Byrne’s quirky singing style and St. Vincent’s raw indie wailing and guitar playing, the performance came off with a fresh new sound unique to the group. The performance came off much like a Broadway show, with dance routines incorporated into nearly every song. The talented musicians were all introduced near the end of the set, with lengthy explanations of all of their side projects.

Although the new music was well received by the crowd, it was the addition of some Talking Heads classics such as “Burning Down the House” and “On the Road to Nowhere” that whipped many in the crowd into a dancing frenzy. St Vincent had her own fans as well, who embraced the band’s versions of some of her solo material, such as the song “Cheerleader,” from her last album, Strange Mercy.

But it was clear that the mercurial Byrne will be remembered most for his contribution to the dawn of the new wave with the Talking Heads.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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