Live Music + Gig Reviews

David Byrne & St Vincent @ Roundhouse, London

27 August 2013

david byrne and st vincent “An archangel of absurdity” is how Annie Clark – aka St Vincent – refers to her partner for the evening, David Byrne. And, as he leads his orchestra in a perfectly choreographed, two hour extravaganza, dressed in braces and sporting a Madonna-style head mic, he absolutely lives up to this poetic moniker.

After a chance meeting at a show in New York in 2009, the unlikely duo struck up a writing partnership carried out both in person and over email. The result was Love This Giant, released almost exactly a year ago. It was one of our albums of the year and clearly struck a chord with fans of both sides of the collaboration as, 12 months later, the Roundhouse is packed to the rafters.

Where Love This Giant was criticised for being rather Byrne-centric – “a pretty decent Talking Heads album”, we called it – tonight he hands control over to Clark, who plays the calm, composed lynchpin to his goofy, robot-dancing eccentric. Their album dominates, but the set list also dips into their respective careers, fully utilizing the 10-piece brass orchestra, and there are plenty of whoops from the crowd as old classics are pulled out.

Standouts from their album Who, The Forest Awakes, I Should Watch TV and Outside Of Time And Space – which Byrne dedicates to the Higgs Boson particle – of course – are all wrapped in brass, injected with a warmth that’s absent from the album. It’s the kind of kooky, light hearted humour that infiltrates even the most warped of Talking Heads tracks. But it’s the older songs that inevitably get the biggest response. This Must Be The Place, Lazy, Burning Down The House… even Byrne’s 2008 collaboration with Brian Eno, Strange Overtones, gets the crowd going and sees him break out some of his most bizarre dance moves. He leads his band about like the Pied Piper, marching, jutting his head back and forth, overseeing simple but brilliantly showy choreography. At one point the band even play lying down on the stage, saxophones, sousaphone and all pointing into the air.

It’d be cheap to say that the pair have chemistry, but the way they bounce off each other is really special. He adopts an almost fatherly stance, standing back and letting his younger protégé take the limelight. She’s clearly in awe, recalling tales of watching the 1984 Byrne soundtracked Revenge Of The Nerds, and gushing about the joy he “inserts into the world”, but she’s equally aware that she’s earned her place on that stage; her cut glass vocals and thrusting, buzzing electric guitar put her on a level with Byrne, and she doesn’t shy away from getting involved in the old favourites, happily throwing vocals and axe at them.

He returns the favour, as some of St Vincent’s back catalogue gets a look in too; the brilliant Cruel and Cheerleader from 2011’s Strange Mercy prove her equally as kooky as her elder band mate, who throws karate chops at a theremin during a fizzy, raucous version of Northern Lights.

Their second encore ends with the entire band, including Clark and Byrne, snaking their way across the stage in a conga line of sorts to a clattering, joyful rendition of Road To Nowhere which, contrary to Clark’s introduction, suggests they’re equally as absurd as each other. Luckily it’s absurdly good.

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