This is actually history, when you really stop and think about it. A man who was there, at the forefront of any number of cultural phenomena and *moments*: Andy Warhol, CBGBs, Greenwich Village, Max’s Kansas City; the spread of Afrobeat and polyrhythms; house music, and the commodification of art. Always interesting and always, always cool. For fuck’’s sake, Talking Heads and David Byrne are perennial favourites of the perennially difficult-to-please doyen of rock critics Robert Christgau. Almost everything Byrne has done has been a lightbulb moment for generations of young upstarts. There would be no LCD Soundsystem without him.
Not that this means anything to the, mostly, comfortably superannuated baby boomers and bogans assembled here to froth over the hits, and swerve anything that sounds remotely (whisper it) “foreign.” More of which later. It would be damning the whole experience with faint praise to say it would have been better understood at The Festival Centre. However, it’s true.
Now 66, Byrne bestrides the stage, equal parts preacher and Dad who dances like your dad. His hair is as lustrous as it is full and, backed by an 11-part band (all dressed in Kenzo), with a stage that positively shimmers, he belies every one of those 66 years. American Utopia is one of the albums-of-the-year and he opens with Here before segueing quickly into Lazy, his 2002 collaboration with English house music duo X-Press 2.
Fear Of Music’s I Zimbra and Slippery People elicit some lusty bellowing from the couple next to me. This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody) and Once In A Lifetime are perfect, expansive readings of songs that sound modern at any time in history. Nobody appears to know how Dogs Mind and Everybody’s Coming To My House go. Yet the backing singers Chris Giarmo and Tendayi Kuumba vogue and give each song a muscularity and mobility which are a wonderful counterpoint to Byrne‘s robotics and arch bookishness. It all looks and sounds so fantastic.
I Dance Like This, Bullet – accompanied by a sole lamp on wheels and a heavy pondering on existence – and the beautiful Every Day Is A Miracle prompt a mass exodus, presumably because most people only wanna hear the old stuff. It’s a damn shame because Angie Swan, Bobby Wooten, Gustavo Di Dalva, Daniel Freedman, Aaron Johnstone, Tim Keiper, Mauro Refosco, Davi Vieria and Karl Mansfield deserve to command the attention of every single person in this building. This is once-in-a-lifetime stuff (pardon the pun) and most people are off having a piss or getting their sixth drink. Culture, eh?
Blind and Burning Down The House assuage the cognitive dissonance of the majority of those assembled, and an insistent Road To Nowhere and impossibly funky Great Curve elicit a return for the hordes, presumably only because the bar is shut. He encores again with a version of Janelle Monae‘s Hell You Talmbout, and the majority of the crowd don’t know what to make of it; the majority of people at a gig in a State which recently voted in a conservative government. Black lives matter, of course, but I can‘t think for a moment that black deaths in custody concern bogans and the comfortable middle-classes for whom black people are still ‘The other,’ despite the pronounced influence of black music on the show we’ve all just witnessed. Emmett Till to them is probably a sad and inconvenient relic; not an antecedent of modern, lived, vital experience. It is a bold, dazzling and fantastically jolting moment.
As with everything Byrne does, this is a *moment*.
Even at his age, he is without peer.