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David Byrne & St. Vincent

LIVE CONCERT REVIEW:

David Byrne & St. Vincent Live in Portland (October 18, 2012)
David Byrne & St. Vincent Live in Woodinville, Wa (June 18, 2013)


David Byrne and St. Vincent Live in Portland (October 18, 2012)

If the dream of the '90s was alive in Portland, then it must've been my '90s dream to see David Byrne and St. Vincent in concert. Except, all I knew about David Byrne in the '90s was that he was the guy responsible for True Stories (and I can't even be sure I was fully aware he was a pop singer), and of course St. Vincent hadn't even been invented yet. (By the way, St. Vincent is the name of a band. And there's only one person in the band who's named Annie Clark. ...I have a strangely tough time explaining that to people.) So, I didn't see anything particularly '90s about Portland, but I can at least attest that there were dreams there. ...That is, I stayed there for three nights at the Westin Hotel, and I had dreams during all of them. There is also magic in Portland. That is, if Magic is the name you want to give the tall buildings, the moist climate, and all those dingy hobos peppering the public walkways.

The hobos, by the way, behave very differently in Portland than they do in Seattle, which is odd because I would have figured otherwise that the hobo-culture would have been similar in these two cities. In Seattle, they would be found sitting in dead areas on the sides of buildings or wandering around the sidewalks either singing, playing an instrument, or doing something silly (for instance, one of them I remember yelling out recently: “If you don't give me a dollar, I'll vote for Mitt Romney!”). Portland hobos, however, were far more grim. The reason they weren't singing or tell jokes is because their life has been one big misery from day one, and they've never even had reason to smile. Moreover, they're remarkably in-your-face about advertising their misery—they are most commonly seen sitting on the sidewalks directly in front of exit doors at local grocery stores and restaurants, and they talk to everybody who enters and exits. So, if you've just come out of Starbucks wielding a decadent cup of coffee that you paid way too much for, there will be a hobo there to make you feel guilty.

This was my first time ever visiting Portland, and--to be honest--I didn't even have to visit that city. David Byrne and St. Vincent also had a Seattle stop on their tour. However, I'd unfortunately only caught wind of their tour a couple days after the tickets went on sale, and most of the good seats in Seattle were taken. When I noticed that better seats were available in Portland, I just sort of bought without really thinking of the ramifications of my actions. (I mean, this is David Byrne for pete's sake. My head wasn't clear!) But it's a good thing I did. Maybe a part of me was kind of thirsting for adventure? (Well, if you want to call driving 120 miles to Portland an adventure. That's nothing compared to my 700-mile journey to Chicago in 2004 to see David Bowie.)

So I came to Portland to seek adventure, and wouldn't you know it? There really isn't a whole lot to do there. ...Other than to see the hobos, that is. I mean, I kept myself occupied while I was there, of course. I spent about three hours at the art museum, and it was a pretty good one. However, those three hours were spent exhaustively looking at everything, and thus I would probably call the museum somewhat more medium than large. I also went to the Oregon Zoo, which was also quite... medium. Did I have fun, though? ...Of course I did. It was an art museum and a zoo. Two standard things every population center is supposed to have, and they almost never go wrong.

Maybe it's a little weird that I have a fantasy of living within walking distance to a movie theater. ...Of course a dream like that will remain unfulfilled due to the fact that I live in the real world, and I've also somewhat lost interest in seeing every film that gets released in theaters like I used to. ...Nevertheless, one of the first things I checked into after arriving at the hotel was whether there was a movie theater within walking distance. And there was! Plus, without having to go to work in the morning, my curfew was infinite. Thus, I went to late night showings of Looper and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Both exceedingly watchable films. Regarding the former I'll always remember a nearby audience member's hilariously confused reaction to the final scene “Eeuu-kay.” The latter I'll always remember it completely sensationalizing my favorite song ever written (…“Heroes”).

So anyway, I literally talked about everything I did in Portland other than ...the CONCERT. Now, as I've hinted at, the #1 reason I wanted to go to this thing was for David Byrne. Without me telling you, you probably already knew that I was a huge Talking Heads fan. But maybe I should more clearly express that: I FREAKING LOVE TALKING HEADS.

The added bonus was that St. Vincent would also be there, as she was someone I'd known quite well. I'd even known her well before I'd caught wind that the pair would be collaborating on an album. ...Weirdly, I could even tell you the exact month that I first listened to one of her albums. It was Actor in July 2009. I thought it was pretty fantastic, but somewhat difficult to get my mind around. So, I'd kind of put her on the back-burner figuring there would always be more time for me to try to get into it a little more. But then I'd nearly had forgotten about her... Until the news that she was touring with David Byrne popped up, and then I quickly bought all three of her albums and listened to them bunches.

I bought the concert ticket before their collaboration album, Love This Giant, came out, but I ordered the album from Amazon just a few days after its release. (It has really bizarre packaging, by the way. A CD that came in a plastic pouch filled with postcards.) I listened to the album a number of times, and—as expected—I loved it. Though I haven't been able to give it as much love as a Talking Heads album or even a St. Vincent album, it's nevertheless a great little thing that's rife with interesting lyrics and excellent horn arrangements.

And thank goodness they brought the funky horn sections with them, because that enhanced the experience of the concert like how salt enhances the flavor of a pretzel. And not only was this horn section funky, they were rather intricately choreographed. Though not quite like a marching band--they were far more stylized, and each member was able to come across as an individual within the army. That is, each of them wore a unique outfit, and occasionally even the choreography permitted them to move about the stage independently from one another. The horn players, by the way, did not come with synthesizer players, and thus a lot of their back catalog came across as wildly different than the originals.

By the way, I don't know if it's just my perception of Portland, but I believe it has a higher percentage of hipsters than any place else in the world. Absolutely the “hipster” demographic overwhelmed this place. Moreover, they were enthused hipsters who liked to holler. And, as you might now, when a hipster decides to holler, it has enough might to summon 1,000 banshees. ...Granted, I was at a David Byrne and St. Vincent concert, which is clearly an event that would attract any hipster like a moth to the flame within a 100-mile radius. Nevertheless, when I go to concerts in Seattle, I've not noticed so many bearded men in dark-rimmed glasses, blazers, and knit scarves. ...Maybe I just don't go to enough hipster events?

Before the show started, I heard David Byrne speak through the sound system, telling the crowd that video and photography were not only permitted but encouraged. He said people should be able to preserve their memories of the show in any way they see fit. ...He just asked people be courteous and not put giant iPads in people's faces. ...Had I known this, I definitely would have made sure to bring along that nice camera I had been lugging around with me in Portland all day. I thought I had to leave it back in the hotel room, because some beefy security guy might have wanted to confiscate it at the show. But, eh. It's no big deal. I'd rather not take photographs at a show, simply because I'd find myself far more concerned with trying to take good pictures than actually soaking in the concert. ...However, I did have my smart phone with me, though, and I thought “Hey? It's encouraged, so why not? Besides, maybe all the people that read these entries might think I'm making all of this stuff up?” So I pulled out the camera and snapped a photograph of... um... the right ear of the guy standing in front of me. (And--oh--look! It's David Byrne and Annie Clark fuzzy in the background!) Immediately after taking the photograph, I felt stupid, because I'd forgotten to turn off the flash.

Oh? And do you know the absolute #1 awesome thing about this concert? Annie Clark and David Byrne were on stage together the entire time. They even performed during one another's back catalog. ...Of course I realized they would concentrate mainly on covering songs from their recent collaboration, but they would have run out of songs if they didn't also dig into their back catalog. (And perhaps the hipsters might have rioted.) Nevertheless, I might have thought Byrne would have taken the opportunity to go back stage and get a sip of water while St. Vincent performed “Cruel,” for instance. But nope. Granted, though, his level of participation during “Cruel” was basically to march along in the background with the horn and woodwind players. I understand why he'd only have minimal participation, since it would have been difficult/unnecessary for him to try to work his vocals into the fabric of such a song. ...But wow! He was actually up on stage busting his chops just like everyone else. (Now, there really would have been no question to me that Clark might have gone back stage during a Talking Heads song. I mean, anybody who writes the kinds of songs she does probably considers her Talking Heads collection something of holy hymnals.)

Clark's level of participation during the Talking Heads songs were, as I would have expected, quite intimate, providing back-up singing and even guitar playing. Absolutely, she was having a blast. ...I wasn't close enough to the stage to see the stars in her eyes when she told the crowd that the first time she was introduced to Talking Heads was in the 1980s when she heard “Burning Down the House” in Revenge of the Nerds, but I could tell her eyes were a-blazin'. I was also able to surmise (through nothing but pure conjecture) that Byrne loved being able to work with someone like St. Vincent who is about as cutting-edge as it gets these days.

There were only three Talking Heads songs that night, which isn't something I would necessarily call a disappointment, but I also doubt I would have complained much if they'd sneaked another couple of songs in there. Ah well, the three they performed were major classics that I've heard approximately eight billion times each. One was “This Must Be the Place,” which was performed very early on in the show. With marching band style of instrumentation, it had a vastly new sound and texture than the original. For instance, instead of a synthesizer playing that familiar, rather chirpy, groove, we had the raw sounds from a xylophone and thick brass. Not bad! ...We also had the wicked dance moves from David Byrne, which were sort of stylishly non-elaborate. He sort of posed for a bit and then acted like he was chopping veggies on a cutting board. Odd, and yet awesome. (Maybe he was doing that to test to see if people would think he's awesome doing just about anything. ...Well, what if he is?) The other two Talking Heads songs were “Burning Down the House” and “Road to Nowhere.” Notably, the bearded hipster sitting next to me let out a high-pitched yelp and appeared to jump about six feet into the air when “Burning Down the House” started playing. Otherwise what I'd heard through the song was a thick hum of people confidently singing the lyrics all around me.

Some of the other songs I had trouble deciphering whether they were from Love This Giant, from a St. Vincent album, or from a David Byrne solo album (the latter of which is largely untouched territory for me). I did at least recognize right away that the funky set-list opener “Who” was from Love This Giant, and its almost equally as funky follow-up, “Weekend in the Dust.” But not all of the songs from that album are funky; many of them are more... er... artsy. Take “I Am an Ape,” for instance, which starts out like a Philip Glass opera. ...Now, that song does eventually start to get into a funky rhythm, but it doesn't last for that long. (In good fashion, at the show, the horn players played the funky rhythm section whilst forming a joyous conga line.) The closing song from the setlist was “Outside of Time and Space,” a rather bleak tune that he'd dedicated to the Higgs-Boson Particle. (And all the fans of that particle in the crowd cheered joyously.)

As I would have figured, Byrne and St. Vincent performed most of Love This Giant. According to publish set-lists of the concert (without which I would have only been able to guess what I heard), the only songs from that album that weren't represented at the show were “Ice Age” and “Dinner For Two.” That is, if those set-lists were accurate.

One song that David Byrne performed from his solo career I should have recognized right away since that's his only solo album of his that I own was “Strange Overtones” from his 2008 collaboration with Brian Eno. However, I must have been so jaded, or something, that I was only able to vaguely recall that I might have heard that before. Although another song I don't remember ever hearing before was “Like Humans Do,” from one of Byrne's earlier solo albums, and ...Hm! Perhaps it's finally time for me to, at long last, get into those solo albums? Another song I hadn't heard before and was one of the most infectiously danceable songs was another one of Byrne's solo songs, “Lazy.” (Someone attending the same performance as I was and had a remarkably great seat was nice enough to record this moment. ...Everybody stood up 100 percent of the time at this concert, and where I was sitting I spent most of the show watching that guy with the right ear covering up about half to two-thirds of the stage at all times.)

By far the most striking moments of the show were some of Annie Clark's solo stuff. ...I mean, if you thought David Byrne's songs could occasionally be somewhat unsettling, they're pleasant little jingles when compared to the brainsick mania of St. Vincent's songs. “Cheerleader” is one of the most memorably crazy things she's ever done, and she performed it that evening. Not only was I hearing those thick horns blast walls of lush sound that whooshed all around me, but there was a blue light projecting her shadow onto a giant movie screen in the back. This shadow was quite small during the 'quiet lulls' of that song when she would hack out jilted lines with her guitar, but right before it was time for her to sing “I-I-I-I don't wanna be a cheerleader no more”), she'd sort of glide up to the microphone that was sitting close to the light source, and her shadow would become monstrous. Very spooky.

Also worth a mention, I had one of my wishes and dreams fulfilled during this show: I'd finally got to see a real theremin in action. It was during “Northern Lights.” Two other concerts I've been to this year had moments where a theremin sound was produced (the Beach Boys and Roger Hodgson shows), but they weren't actual theremins. ...You know, that thing with the rod in the air that makes an eerie noise when you place an object comes in proximity to it. Granted, neither Byrne nor St. Vincent have much of an idea how to play the instrument--all they were doing was waving their hands around it to make wild zippy noises.

I found a video of these two going at it at a prior concert, but they were getting far more carried away with it in Portland. ...I don't know what it is; perhaps it's all the moisture? (In addition to David Byrne making those karate chops, he also kicked up his foot to it a few times--and at one point I saw both of them put their heads to it.)

It also had a triple encore, which is a new record. I've been to a show with a double encore, but a show with a triple encore is about as rare as a triple rainbow. The first encore was of course very expected, and that was when “Burning Down the House” was performed. When they went off the stage for the second time, the house lights weren't coming back on, so nobody knew what to do so they kept clapping and cheering. Lucky us, they came back on, and performed St. Vincent's “The Party” and Talking Heads' “The Road to Nowhere.” They went off the stage that time and I turned my body toward the aisle ready to leave... but the house lights still weren't coming back on. I heard a guy around me say: “Noooo... Nooo... They going to come back?” And sure enough they did, but that would be for the last time. What they performed was “Open the Kingdom,” which was a collaboration between Byrne and Philip Glass. I had no idea that collaboration exists, but it makes sense such a collaboration would exist considering how much of Byrne's later solo work reminds me of Philip Glass.

So anyway, this was a fantastic show and easily one of the best I attended this year. I'd been kind of wondering, though, if I would have enjoyed it somewhat more if I was watching just one of them as opposed to both of them together. After all, a St. Vincent concert would have only songs from her back catalog, and a David Byrne concert also would only have songs from his catalog. And while Love This Giant is an excellent album, I don't think it quite measures up to these artists' previous works. On the other hand, I doubt they'll collaborate on another album ever again, and therefore this concert was likely a once-in-a-lifetime event. So nope, I wouldn't want to trade this experience for anything in the world. ...And it was in Portland!


David Byrne and St. Vincent Live in Woodinville, WA (July 18, 2013)

It was deja vu all over again, and something else. The two subjects of my magical Portland trip were making the rounds again, and I had to go. Again. There was no question. I also managed to achieve better seats this time--having purchased presale tickets which require ID upon entry. The only problem were the two people seated in front of me. My seat was situated such that I was looking between the heads of the people in front of you, and that's the best way it should be. However, in my case, the two heads I was supposed to have been looking between were a particularly affectionate couple who kept snuggling and smooching all the time. Thus, my view of the stage was limited. (But I am not complaining! The artists were still very close to me--about eight rows from the front--that they indeed looked like real people!)

This is also an outdoors venue. My place in the world is quite far north from the equator, and this time of year was close to the summer solstice. As I discovered when I attended this show in Portland, one of the most mesmerizing things about the stage presentation was watching the shadows of the brass band members being projected on the walls. ...This show was also choreographed such that there should have been awesome shadows projected onto the walls. However, there was way too much daylight. By the time the sky finally got around to getting dark, the show was nearly over.

I'd also say that, since I'd already seen this concert previously under more exciting circumstances (that is, I was in Portland, the land of dreams and wonder), the experience of this show was considerably less exciting. That was true both because I knew exactly what to expect and because I wasn't traveling. They also didn't do much to change the set-list or change the action. The exactness of the concert even extended to the theremin battle. But I got a picture of it this time on my iPhone:

By far the biggest change in this tour since I saw them last October, as you might notice in the picture, was that Annie Clark changed her hair! (And no, unfortunately, I do not have any insight into why this happened.)

By the way, I'm not complaining about this show not changing in the slightest! When I signed up to go see the show again, I was very much aware that it'd most likely be the same stuff again. The only downside is, when it comes to writing this review, I don't have a whole lot to say about it.

Naturally, of course, I loved the show, and I would go yet again, if I could. ...I'm quite positive I'll be seeing David Byrne every time he comes near me until the day either one of us dies. I would say the same thing about St. Vincent, but a local show I could have attended on March 26, 2014 unfortunately interfered with one of my season-ticket shows to Edmonds Community Center for the Arts. But St. Vincent will probably keep going forever, and I'll have many more opportunities.

Here is a better picture of the concert.

The set-list was nearly identical to the one I saw in Portland. They played the vast majority of Love This Giant (including “Outside of Space and Time,” dedicated as always to the Higgs Boson particle); a sprinkling of St. Vincent solo songs (very weird, of course); some David Byrne solo songs (I was listening to “Strange Overtones” a lot on my iPod since the Portland show, and I was particularly elated to hear it again, after finally becoming a die-hard fan of it); and then a (regrettably) limited number of Talking Heads songs.

There was one exciting Talking Heads addition to the show, however: “Wild Wild Life.” They added that song to the set-list at one point. When I saw it, I wondered why they didn't have that one included all along? For sure, that was one of the major highlights of the show, an especially great pick for a concert. Naturally, of course, David Byrne and St. Vincent took over the majority of the singing duties. But a couple times during the performance, the members of the brass band formed a conga line and spoke a few lyrics as they passed by the microphone.

Anyway, it was a great thing I decided to go see them again. That was even though going to concerts are exhausting, and I was slated to go to another concert the next day. ...A concert so massive in magnitude that it would completely dwarf this one. (Who else could that be but Paul McCartney?)


All reviews are written by Michael Lawrence.