Features

Burning Down The (Opera) House: David Byrne in Sydney

Sydney Opera House; Sydney, Australia; February 1, 2009

by Giselle Nguyen

David Byrne has always been quirky, but he's never been inaccessible. Coming to fame as the frontman of New Wave outfit Talking Heads in the ‘70s, he's turned heads with his crazy wardrobe choices, guest starred on The Simpsons and appeared on every Windows XP user's computer by default with “Like Humans Do.”

And it seems that age is only improving him. After the release of his most recent collaboration with producer Brian Eno, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, the eccentric white-haired funk veteran returned to Australian shores in the first week of February for the Songs Of David Byrne And Brian Eno Tour.

Accompanied on stage by a full band, as well as backing singers and back flipping dancers (all wearing matching white outfits), the Big Suit's return to Australia for the first time since 2005 exploded into force with a soulful rendition of the lead single from his new record, “Strange Overtones.” It proved a perfect way to introduce the man behind the music; as he sang the line “These grooves are out of fashion / These beats are twenty years old,” it was anyone's guess that he'd spend the next two hours showing that while the second part of that particular lyric may be accurate, the first couldn't be farther from the truth.

davidbyrne_250Showcasing material ranging from early Heads to the most recent record, the show spanned the entirety of Byrne's prolific partnership with leading experimental musician and producer Eno. Comparing the new material with his last non-Heads collaboration with Eno, 1981's My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, it really feels worlds apart. Ditching avant-garde experimentation for lush melodies and the occasional nod to their roots, Byrne and Eno this time around have crafted a record that is accessible to a newer generation but doesn’t isolate the old either -- something evidenced by the variety of audience members, from grey-haired dads to flannel-wearing hipsters who no doubt raved about the show on Last.FM afterwards.

Whether it was the Dadaist poetry of “I Zimbra,” the eruptive schizophrenia of “Crosseyed And Painless” or the dulcet cynicism of “Heaven,” the musical palates of the Heads fans in the room were whetted with a selection of tunes from the three Eno-produced albums. Byrne's voice, not weakened with age, rang out through the Opera House hall with ecstasy as he recapped some of his finest moments, with the biggest cheers saved for Remain In Light anthem “Once In A Lifetime” and the light-heartedly cynical “Life During Wartime” getting most, if not all, punters on their feet. Possibly the closest to Stop Making Sense most of us will ever get -- and what a day it was.

Playing a strong mix of Heads and new songs, as well as material from Bush Of Ghosts and his 1981 Twyla Tharp dance score The Catherine Wheel, Byrne held the audience in the palm of his hand as he achieved the perfect balance between the lunatic of old and the soulful crooner of new -- who would ever have guessed he'd settle down like this?

But it wasn't until the end that he proved that hey, he's really just the same as he ever was when the lights came up for the second encore there he was, 56-year-old David Byrne, in a white tutu along with the rest of his band. Prancing in his little skirt while performing an ecstatic rendition of “Burning Down The House,” Byrne showed that he's still as nutty and relevant as ever. Here's to a gent who will continue to remain in light as long as he lives.



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