David Byrne played at the Olympia Theater in Paris March 25, 2009. It was the Everything That Happens Will Happen Today Tour.
Disclaimers: I’ve never reviewed any music. I’m not a frequent concertgoer, or even a connoisseur of Byrne, but I am a fan from way back.
I know Brian Eno mainly from his previous collaboration with Byrne some thirty years ago. That they’ve worked together again is excellent news. Byrne and his band performed several numbers from their new CD, same name as the tour, where Eno composed and Byrne lyricized. Overall, they reminded me of fresh, updated Talking Heads compositions with over and undertones of gospel, R&B, mystic pop, and even C&W. For the final encore, we were treated to the title song, Everything That Happens, (will happen today). It rocks. Other new works that I liked were: Wanted for Life – which sounded like Eno and Byrne detoured through Texas, One Fine Day, The River (see below), Life is Long, Home, and I Feel My Stuff.
David Byrne has always been surprising. I’m a fan of surprise. Not like a tax audit, or an unexpected pregnancy, but small, brain-zapping surprise, where we are shaken out of our normal thought patterns. I wrote a thesis on surprise as used in kids’ literature and spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out just what we go through when we read or see something that departs from our expectations. The taste for it is hard-wired into the frontal cortex of the human brain, in the nucleus accumbens, if you really want to know. As a writer, I try to remember to attempt to stimulate this area.
David is a master of the unexpected in his music, lyrics, performances and even his graphic design (he did go to RISD after all). He’s an inspiration to me as an artist for this and many other reasons. The first time, in college, that I paid attention to Byrne’s lyrics, I thought, “How surprising. Yes, he has nailed the feeling of alienation and disenfranchisement from society with random, disjointed references to a weapons’ cache, couple team work, visas, notebooks, and CBGB’s.” I was hooked.
He’s up to his old unpredictable tricks, and more. Even the staging of this tour: simple set and memorable light design behind the performers—back-up singers, dancers, band members, and David himself—dressed in all white. Ah, the Band from Glad, I thought, when they first came on. That’s good! If you grew up watching American TV ads in the early seventies, this will make sense. Plus their costumes all match David’s hair.
They played not only the old surprising Life During Wartime (a family favorite), much to my delight, but I Zimbra, Heaven, Take Me to the River, and Once in a Lifetime (which is one of my all time favorites and, I was happy to see, on the NPR list of 100 of the most influential American musical works of the twentieth century http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18955124
Last but not least, they finally performed Burning Down the House, in the next-to-last encore. When the opening electronic notes reverberated through the crowd, and the lights came back up, the performers were all in… white tutus.
What a surprise!
I’m a fan of tutus, too.
Byrne trips out on time, and water as a metaphor for emotion or the unconscious, like I would like to think I do. Consider almost any of his lyrics from and the name of this tour. Time: still waiting…same as it ever was…even Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens. Then the whole water-flowing motif in the old Take Me to the River, new The River, and of course, Once in a Lifetime: let the water hold me down, indeed. Even Burning Down the House, is… all wet (hey you might need a raincoat).
Of course, everything that happens will happen today. I understand that in an ever-seeping way in middle-age, the way time gets dammed up or flows and ebbs and we end up in back waters or under the waves at the bottom of the ocean, or speeding down a raging river, and do wonder, how did I get here? Byrne seems to have had a handle on these metaphysical conundrums since he was a wee bairn.
I grinned through the whole concert. The crowd was mostly French; artsy, intellectual, largely over thirty. In some cases, way. All the men sitting near me had on Italian designer glasses and graying hair flowing from patches on their heads to below their collars. The woman next to me wore a silk scarf and comfy Arche shoes. This is my demographic, I guess. As far as I could tell, they all liked the tutus. By the time we got to Burning Down the House, everyone had flowed into the aisles and down to the front, clapping and dancing like les adolescents. Even though I checked for the nearest fire exits, all night, I, too, er, got down, to my old favorites, and tripped out on the way music, like smells, transport us through our old house and automobiles, up river, into the past. I took great pleasure in the funky and surprising choreography, the lush new music, the percussion, his excellent back-up talent and especially Byrne’s energy, eccentricity, genius I have to say, and ability to ever-surprise thirty years on.