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July 19, 2013 at 12:50 PM

David Byrne & St. Vincent raise the spirits | Concert review

Seattle Times arts writer Michael Upchurch writes:

With a swaggeringly chunky saxophone riff and a tricky bit of bass-drum syncopation, David Byrne and St. Vincent got their concert at Chateau Ste. Michelle winery off to a glorious start on Thursday night.

That riff belonged to “Who,” the opening track on the duo’s 2012 album, “Love This Giant.” And the saxophones were just one part of a brass lineup that, complemented by drums and electronics, constituted a James Brown-tight electro-spacey Sousa-band.

Note: They didn’t just sound good. They were choreographed, doing nerdy variations on Motown moves that occasionally featured a prancing sousaphonist.

The concert covered almost all the songs from “Love This Giant.” Hearing them live reaffirmed how intricately structured and cleverly scored they are. The brass arrangements (most of them credited to Tom Finno on the CD) are both slithery funk-fests and vivid colorings on tunes that never quite go where you expect.

St. Vincent — whom Byrne introduced by her off-stage name, Annie Clark — handled most of the lead guitar, delivering some blistering, angular twists that wouldn’t have been out of place at a Talking Heads show in the band’s heyday. Her vocals occasionally got lost in the mix at some points early on (the problem soon was fixed), but Byrne was in fine, soaring voice all night.

As for stage presence, both performers were pretty droll. Clark’s teetering mini-steps on high-heels, combined with her little robotic head bobs, were matched by Byrne’s unusual calisthenics and soft-shoe shuffle on certain songs.

Byrne drew from both his solo career (“Strange Overtones,” “Lazy,” “Like Humans Do”) and his work with Talking Heads (“This Must be the Place,” “Burning Down the House,” “Road to Nowhere” and “Wild Wild Life,” which he described as “a song I wrote some years ago for a video karaoke contest”).

Clark’s non-“Giant” songs (including “Cheerleader” and “Save Me from What I Want”) drew from her latest two solo albums, “Actor” and “Strange Mercy.” She introduced “Cheerleader” as “sort of a true story” — except for the fact that she’d never been one.

Byrne had behind-the-scenes anecdotes to share, too. He explained that “I Should Watch TV” (from “Love This Giant”) was inspired by his memory of buying his first television after getting his first record contract. In concert, the comic premise of the title soon gave way to something positively ecstatic, both in Byrne’s lyrics (“The more I lost myself, the more it set me free!”) and in the shimmering brass chorale that accompanied them.

“TV” wasn’t the only tune on which Byrne seemed engaged in some strange variation on a tent revival meeting. “Outside of Space and Time” (the closing number on “Love This Giant”) had a hymn-like grace in concert and may be the prettiest thing he’s ever written.

The last encore, Talking Heads’ rousing 1985 hit “Road to Nowhere,” finished things off on an equally spirited note. After taking their final bows, the whole band launched into a ragtime instrumental variation on “Road to Nowhere” before sashaying off, New Orleans-style, into the wings.


Comments | More in Rock/Pop | Topics: Chateau Ste. Michelle, David Byrne, St. Vincent


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