Live Music + Gig Reviews

David Byrne @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

3 July 2002

David ByrneThis concert was one of those occasions when died-in-the-wool fans packed the venue from the floor to the rafters. Just one problem, though – I wasn’t one of them.

Byrne mooched onto the stage to an instant standing ovation from his diehard devotees, which seemed to give him a licence to ramble on meaninglessly for several minutes – but of course the fans didn’t mind one jot. My malaise deepened when it came as some surprise that Byrne is American, although some pride was later restored when I discovered he was born in Scotland.

His musings offered up an opportunity to admire his band. A superb and exhaustive rhythm section of percussionist and drummer, and later on a string sextet, turned up to add to the fray. As for Byrne himself, a smallish figure with a shock of blue-grey hair, he was content to with guitar which was occasionally ditched in favour of nothing but vocals and decidedly dodgy dance moves.

The set eventually started with some rich, Latin-tinged tunes and a sure indication that Byrne has at least one foot firmly planted in the world music camp. He also made glancing references to South American musicians he has collaborated with down the years. Byrne’s devotees warmed up even more when he slipped in a couple of classic tracks from his Talking Heads days. And She Was and Once In A Lifetime harked back to the early ’80s, and had resonance even to the dispassionate such as myself. He still carried off the quirky, theatrical vocals of the latter hit with the same old gusto.

But Byrne the solo singer was not going to be sidelined. This was when the strings section took to the stage, and some remarkable concoctions were rustled up with the feisty guy on percussion.

This was all pretty interesting music, but it was by no means immediate. The bold musical melange did not always work, and the main man was at times less interesting to watch than his support musicians. The feeling of being surrounded by fans reached fever pitch when they decided to stomp on the floor and chant his name to the tune of Here We Go. He lapped it up, as I wondered if I’d stumbled onto the football terraces by mistake or was about to be sucked into a dastardly cult.

But regularity was restored when Byrne launched into Lazy, the recent smash hit with X-Press 2 which has thrust him into the limelight all over again. And a fine interpretation it was, with the string section still working their socks off.

A follow-up of Whitney Houston‘s I Wanna Dance With Somebody was woeful, but all goodness in the world was restored with a finale of Road To Nowhere, Talking Heads‘ biggest hit. Along with all those fans, I remembered it well. It was a happy ending to a slightly bewildering gig.

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