David Byrne, Tampa Theatre, Tampa, FL- 12/12
Given his background as a visual artist and inveterate, relentlessly curious cultural explorer, it's hardly a surprise that David Byrne concocts an intriguing new concept for each of his recording projects and tours — here an oversized Latin band, there a small combo with a vibraphonist.
Byrne's latest tour, in support of this year's Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, his first collaboration will Brian Eno in nearly 30 years, is no exception, as the former Talking Heads leader demonstrated on a return trip to Tampa Theatre, a beautifully appointed 1926 art deco movie palace that doubles as an intimate concert venue.
This time, Byrne was joined by keyboardist/programmer Mark De Gli Antoni, bassist Paul Frazier, drummer Graham Hawthorne, and percussionist Mauro Refosco plus back-up singers Kaissa, Redray Frazier and Jenni Muldaur, and a trio of hoofers. On many tunes, the vocalists and dancers, and sometimes Byrne, turned in a series of dance routines that were uniformly invigorating and creative, decidedly modern with nods to both theatrical and experimental influences.
The effect, with the entire troupe dressed in white and Byrne out front, topped with a shock of white hair, toting a Stratocaster, and putting body and soul into the performance, was mesmerizing. Cool detachment was out, and a warm sense of connection with the audience was in. Byrne even opened with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor: "It's a set menu," he promised. "No substitutions. I'll be your waiter. My name's Dave."
The music, an exuberantly played mix of songs from the new CD, several Talking Heads albums, and the 1981 Byrne/Eno collaboration My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, kicked off with the new "Strange Overtones," all low-riding bass and percussion groove, and squiggly synthesizer lines erupting during the instrumental break. Heads tune "I Zimbra," with the dancers making their entrance, jumping, clapping, twisting and kicking, was followed by the electric-acoustic guitars, loping beat and gospel-edged textures of "One Fine Day." "Help Me Somebody" (from Ghosts), with its subdued funk and found sounds, led into a tune that prompted the first of several standing ovations — an invigorating performance of the Heads' "Houses in Motion," replete with invigorating call-and-response singing, deep, percolating grooves, keyboard-generated sound effects and another round of jaw-dropping dance moves by Lily Baldwin, Natalie Kuhn and Steven Reker.
Those first five tunes were followed by 15 more (including three encores). The group, to the obvious delight of an audience that quickly surrendered to the music's summons to dance, offered plenty of Heads favorites — "Heaven," with its open-wide chorus and five-part vocal harmonies; the irresistible gospel drive and exquisite tension and release of Al Green's "Take Me to the River"; "Crosseyed and Painless," all chunky funk, unison vocals and whammy-bar guitar; the hypnotic "Once in a Lifetime" and "Life During Wartime"; and, late in the show, an aptly incendiary workout on "Burning Down the House."
The new material was compelling and well received, too, and, as if to prove a point, Byrne closed the concert with "Everything That Happens," a lush, slow-moving ballad built on chiming, air-hanging guitars, the leader's fragile, vulnerable sounding vocals and big, gospel-edged background vocals. "Everything that happens will happen today/and nothing has changed, but nothing's the same," he sang, perhaps suggesting a thing or two about his approach to music/performance — carefully and artfully designed but always marked by in-the-moment appeal and spontaneous musical eruptions.
Byrne, at this point, has nothing left to prove. Still, at 58, he continues to give every performance as if it were going to be the one that defined his career. Yet again, he has delivered one of the year's most memorable pop tours.