I recently saw a formula that stated “modern art = I could do that + yeah, but you didn’t”
It made me laugh as it sounded just like numerous conversations I have had, in numerous art galleries around the world. Don’t get me wrong, I do like modern art and sometimes I think I even understand what the artist was trying to do. But more often than not, I struggle to get overly enthusiastic about the whole thing.
In contrast, I would imagine David Byrne is someone who IS overly enthusiastic about modern art. I would even go so far as to say he would be overly enthusiastic about almost all art.
Reading his book ‘How Music Works’ (which I highly recommend), allows you to see a glimpse inside his mind, and about how music and art come together. He explains through stories from his days in Talking Heads and his numerous solo projects how an artist can use costume, lights, stage props and of course the music itself to create something more than just a standard concert, and how in turn each element has an impact on the other elements. An artistic virtuous circle if you will.
After reading the book and finding myself more and more interested in the DB / Talking Heads back catalogue, I was pretty excited for this show even if was at the ’big barn’ Tivoli down in Utrecht. Add to the mix St Vincent, who had blown us away at the Melkweg last year and this promised to be a pretty special show.
Unlike when we had seen Wilco there previously, this time the Big Barn had been transformed into a fully seated venue. We had no complaints about taking a seat on a lazy Sunday evening and settled into a nice central section with a good view of the stage, which was already adorned with various brass instruments. Each lit up by its own spot light on an otherwise very empty and largely blank stage.
Perhaps because of the book, it was already apparent that what looked to be a bit messy and random was probably a very deliberate and no doubt was already part of the show. With no support band it was not long before David’s voice came booming out over the speaker system to deliver a somewhat surprising message. Unlike most shows that bother with such announcement, they didn’t mind at all if we took photos or videos – just as long as it did not impact anyone else view or enjoyment of the show.
What a great and fresh approach!
Soon after David and Anne took to the stage, along with an 8 piece brass section forming a semi circle across the empty stage. They were flanked by a drummer and keyboardist in the two back corners to bring the total to 12 people on stage for the majority of the night.
For the next couple of hours they worked through a surprisingly mixed set of material. It was of course dominated by their own album, Love this Giant, with 9 of the albums 12 tracks played. To the delight of most of the crowd there were also 7 DB/Talking Heads songs, including a great version of This Must be the Place (Naive Melody), my all time favorite Talking Heads song and a real highlight of the night. And at least to my surprise, 6 St Vincent songs which, similar to when we saw her last time, came across really well live, perhaps even more so with the bigger band.
To some extent the quality of the songs and the musicianship goes without saying when you go and see one of the world’s great performers. But I think what set the night apart and kept the sellout crowd captivated all evening was the stage show. Each song the 10 free standing band member created various formations, back and forth stepped dance moves and even a kind of conga line around the empty stage.
This was not a tightly choreographed ‘Beyonce’ style dance routine, but to get this many musicians moving in a casual, relaxed but well coordinated ensemble must have taken some serious rehearsing. From where we were sitting they all looked to be enjoying themselves and the sound and visual experience was exceptional.
The big empty black stage, the strategically placed spot lights, the continual reformation of the bands positioning - the sound and the sight. This was all modern art I could get and I could love. But there is no way I could do it!
There is no doubt this was one of the most memorable live shows I have ever been to and it only added to the ‘Musical Genius’ label I had already given David Byrne.
A special thanks to JanPie for the fantastic photos - check out her Flickr page for some more great shots of the night - JanePie