Every once in a while, I see a concert that manages to challenge my preconceived notions of what music performance is in a special, creative way. I’m pleased to report that David Byrne’s show at the Orpheum last night did exactly that. It was truly one of the most daring, original sets I’ve ever witnessed—even if I’d knew nothing about Byrne before the show, I think my mind still would’ve been blown.
Now, before we get into all of that, let’s talk about the opener. Benjamin Clementine proved to be an excellent warm-up for the main act, deftly prepping us for the weirdness to come. He was given a nice, lengthy chunk of time, during which he had ample room to delve deep into the recesses of 808-infused piano balladry and oblique performance art. About three minutes into a particularly peculiar sequence in which Clementine attempted to reassemble a dismembered mannequin child, an audience member behind me hypothesized that he must be “playing a big joke on us”. While I’m not sure that was precisely the case, I certainly dug his capacity for taking risks and having a bit of fun with the audience.
Then there was Byrne’s portion of the night. My goodness. I hate to say it, but the whole affair made Stop Making Sense look like child’s play. First of all, as he made clear to the audience, all of the music was real. No backing tracks to be found. This might seem somewhat standard for rock music, but in this case it was especially impressive due to the fact that each instrument used in the performance was strapped to its instrumentalist’s body so as to be mobile (even drums!). Furthermore, this mobility was necessary for a reason—the entire show was choreographed to a tee. Each of the dozen or so band members, in addition to their musical duties, always had something physical to do, often being ordered to and fro by the stage lighting itself. However, for something so meticulously planned out, what exuded from the production was primarily unbridled joy and defiant freedom. As he wobbled, jigged and swaggered about the stage, Byrne seemed invincible.
Unlike many artists of his age and stature, David Byrne is not stagnating. Instead, he’s chosen a path of continued growth (and therefore, continued artistic risk), which in my opinion is an incredibly noble thing for a sixty-six-year-old artist to do. Here’s to movement.