Monday, January 18, 2010

2009 Concert Memory #2 - David Byrne at Oxford, UK April 9

The other concert experience I'd like to revisit is going to see the Songs of David Byrne & Brian Eno tour last spring, celebrating their collaboration during three Talking Heads albums and the 2008 release Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. I had come to The Talking Heads a bit late, encountering Remain in Light as a senior in college. After many plays and catching up by collecting the previous three records, I was a full fledged fan. I have to count their 1983 concert in Forest Hills, Queens (as filmed in Stop Making Sense and I even attended the release party with the band in attendance at the old Ritz in NYC) among my top concert experiences. Another top concert experience however, was seeing David Byrne alone on tour in 2001, just weeks after 9/11. Tears streamed down my face as I sang along to "Once in a Lifetime" as there was simply no "same as it ever was."

So last spring I was planning a visit to see my daughter in London, who was there for her junior year abroad, when we found a concert stop in Oxford during the week. It was the perfect family concert experience -- two decades earlier she'd sing "Stay Up Late" about a Mommy having a little baby right after her baby brother was born. We even bought the book about the song with whimsical drawings by Maira Kalman, a collector's item now.

The concert also gave us a reason to hop a train out of town, see some of the country side and of course visit that beautiful academic town. We whiled away the afternoon in J.R.R. Tolkien's favorite pub, the Eagle and Child, then headed over to the historic New Theatre. The crowd seemed as mild mannered and scholarly as the surrounding town, but the space was small enough to feel close to the action on the stage. Although there was not much space between the rows of seats, after a while people were on their feet grooving to the world music inspired beats played the huge group on stage dressed head to toe in white . The New Theatre staff did not like so much motion in the audience and started telling people to stop dancing.

That's when David Byrne abruptly stopped mid-song and told the crowd, "You dance if you want to," and now everyone was on their feet right to the back row. A reviewer in The Oxford Times (as found on the website) reported he had never seen this happen in more than 20 years of reviewing, that indeed Byrne was "truly bringing down the house." Byrne also had dancers with him on stage, even occasionally joining in the choreography which delighted my modern dance background. The three dancers -- two women and a man -- seemed plucked off the sidewalk with their pedestrian looks and movement vocabulary, yet they added another layer of performance as they engaged the tightly rehearsed musicians. It was a treat for the eyes and ears.

Here's a clip of a favorite dance bit (on chairs... I've danced on chairs many times, just not on stage though I'm jealous my daughter has TWICE!) This song, "Life is Long," is off the 2008 release -- this isn't the show we saw but the filming is quite good.

Here's another clip from the same show, the song "My Big Hands" (Fall Through the Cracks) is from Byrne's music for Twyla Tharp's Catherine Wheel that I went to see in performance by the dance troupe back in 1981. It seems particularly well-suited for this tour!