Sunday, March 8, 2009

David Byrne--Radio City Music Hall, New York City

Last week marked two firsts for me. It was my first time seeing a show at Radio City Music Hall, and my first time seeing an older artist play solo without his once-great band (I will see my second such show, Morrissey, in a few weeks). I got there right when the doors opened so I could explore the place a little bit and enjoy a nine-dollar Heineken. The historic art deco building is just what I expected - it probably used to be very grand and beautiful, but is now only kind of grand and beautiful due to years of use, but still with loads of character. About three dollars worth of my nine-dollar Heineken was frozen.

I made way to my seat, which was pretty far stage right but almost front row, about 10 minutes before the show was supposed to start. The crowd seemed to be a mix of people in their mid to late 40s and people like me, which makes sense due to the Talking Heads' '80s popularity and '00s resurgence. It was a little strange being at an assigned-seat concert alone. I generally prefer going to concerts solo, but at a GA venue, you can kind of walk around and be a little more inconspicuously by yourself. At an assigned-seat show, it’s pretty obvious to those around you that you’ve gone stag. I wasn't sure how to act: whether to stand up, whether it was kosher to walk around, etc. I figured I'd take cues from the rest of the room.

David Byrne appeared on stage sans opener at about 8:30 in a white suit matching his shock of hair. The smaller-than-I-thought-it-would-be backing band (two percussionists, three singers, bassist, keyboardist, three interpretive dancers - not kidding) was similarly dressed. With the exception of a few songs when the dancers broke out some distracting props, the stage arrangement was simple and effective: people, instruments, and a riser for some of the band, forcing the focus sharply on the performers and the music. Byrne gave a little opening speech saying that he was going to perform mostly songs that he made with Brian Eno, that he hoped no one was disappointed by this, and that people could take pictures if they wanted. Then he began the set with "Strange Overtones."

While the first four songs were solid, the show didn't turn spectacular until Byrne played "Houses in Motion" from Remain in Light (produced by Eno). At the end of that song, the crowd offered up about a full minute standing ovation that seemed to humble and surprise Byrne. I'm not sure if that ovation affected the set list at all, but after "Houses in Motion," Byrne switched from playing mostly Eno/Byrne songs to about a 50/50 split between Eno/Byrne and Talking Heads songs. The highlight of the night was "Born Under Punches," my favorite Heads song and the one I most hoped he would play. "Burning Down the House" was also, of course, awesome and featured Byrne and the band in tutus surrounded by about 20 ballerinas who broke out the Rockettes' kick-dance in honor of the venue.

It was an amazing show. Byrne still has that great voice and seemed to really enjoy himself. My only complaint is that the sound mix was a little off - it was too quiet and you could hardly hear Byrne's guitar. But that complaint is minor relative to the quality of the rest of the concert. I went in hoping to enjoy the Eno/Byrne songs that I was not familiar with and to be treated with a couple Talking Heads hits. I ended up enjoying the Eno/Byrne songs very much and got 5/9 of Remain in Light and "Burning Down the House." I could have used "Psycho Killer," but that would have been asking too much. After the show, almost everyone had a smile on their face as they left the building, myself included.

--Jim Powers

Photos by Jim Powers


Brian said...

Jim, I saw a show on this tour last fall (at Clowes Hall in Indy, also by myself), and I also thought it was amazing as well. Afterward, on the way out, I actually heard someone complaining about the show--dude was griping about song selection rather than the performance's quality, which was preposterous. So you're not too keen on "Born Under Punches" (also preposterous); David Byrne still played it. The sound was dicey at Clowes, too--must be endemic to older theaters (although Clowes opened in the early 60s).

Alex said...

Did he play "The River"? I enjoy that song.

Jim P. said...

He did. I didn't think I liked it that much, but it was good live. Same thing with "Heaven". Not a big fan of the studio version, but it was great during the show.

Anonymous said...

when will people and byrne himself just accept that the best he did is talking heads up to and including remain in light.
the rest is just a wankin' bore

Lauren said...

Oh god, I was at that show at Radio City! I really thought it was great. Completely true about the mid-40s crowd though, my friends and I were the youngest people there in our late teens. I have to say, I really enjoyed the interpretive dancers. It was a strange touch, but entirely effective in enhancing the show. It was probably my favorite (and can I say expensive!?) show I've been to yet.

eXTReMe Tracker