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At the age of 66, David Byrne is completely nailing one of the year’s most ambitious tours

David ByrneBy Tim O’Shea //

David Byrne with Ibeyi //
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – San Francisco
August 22nd, 2018 //

“Music resonates in so many parts of the brain that we can’t conceive of it being an isolated thing. It’s whom you were with, how old you were, and what was happening that day.” – an excerpt from David Byrne’s 2012 book “How Music Works”

My first memories of Talking Heads bring me back to my family’s living room, where I would sit in front of our Hi-Fi turntable at the age of five. My mother had just replaced the needle in anticipation of playing a new LP, Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues. It is a memory that I’ll always have.

For the last 35 years, every time I hear “Burning Down the House” or “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”, I am instantly transported back to that moment. It’s a nostalgic trip for me, the listener, one that we all share with our own favorite music.

And you may find yourself subsequently taking in one of the most ambitious concerts of the year, with this current Byrne iteration seeing him promote his seventh solo album American Utopia, which he released back in March, all over the country across more than 100 dates — from a couple of appearances at Coachella (read our festival review here) to two sell-outs at Red Rocks Amphitheatre — on his 2018 tour schedule at the ripe age of 66.

Opening for Byrne were Ibeyi, a downtempo experimental duo, named after the Yoruba word for “twins”. They mixed soul, R&B and some trip-hop into their performance, relying heavily on two drum machines and their incredible vocals.

Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz are French, but they highlight their ancestry by combining Afro-Cuban elements with vocals that are sung in a number of languages, including English, French, Spanish and Yoruba. The Yoruba language comes from Nigeria and was often spoken by the two sisters’ ancestors, who in the 1700s were taken to Cuba from West Africa and then sold as slaves.

Ibeyi’s show was slightly underappreciated by the throngs of latecomers who visited the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium last Wednesday, but they delivered a performance that was worthy of their supporting slot. Several neighbors in the audience agreed that their vocals reminded them of Björk, which was not a slight at all. I noticed the same thing, in fact, when it came to their dark, passion-filled timbre.

Ibeyi


Ibeyi

The sisters’ lyrics are sparked and inspired by social issues, whether they include references to President Donald Trump’s lewd “grab them by …” remark from the now-infamous “Access Hollywood” tape or address an ongoing problem with police brutality, but they’ve still found ways to touch upon such topics as faith, responsibility, family, love and perseverance. There was no truer example of this than during “No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms” at the start of the night as a clip from Michelle Obama’s 2016 Democratic National Convention speech that highlighted Trump’s treatment of women played over the song.

Following a short break between sets, the stage was primed for Mr. Byrne. With a 12-piece ensemble nearly in perpetual motion for 90 minutes (that included a pair of encores), the crowd was brought into the middle of this performance-art circle.

Byrne’s show was mildly reminiscent of “Stop Making Sense”, the 1984 production directed by Jonathan Demme, in its use of disjointed, awkward movements and percussive elements that connect everything onstage, but it was updated in a way that made it not only relevant today, but also completely engrossing.

There has definitely been a jovial feeling on this tour, with all of Byrne’s band members either barefoot or subtly wearing slippers while also donning slightly-too-large grey suits. The entire production resembles a well-oiled, perfected marching band’s field show, with both the drum line and accompanying pieces intertwining to precisely hit their marks.

Visually, Byrne’s show should be commended for its use of light and minimalism. There were no tricky pyrotechnic elements or an overuse of strobe lights/spotlight. Instead, Byrne slowly revealed himself as he sat at a tiny desk while holding the human brain; heavy shadows were cast on his face with the light behind and above him.

As the show progressed into his songs “Here” and “Lazy”, Byrne’s band joined him onstage. The light changed and filled in the stage, giving the audience a happier tone and providing a seamless transition into a Talking Heads interlude. Then, later on during “Blind”, one of the more stunning visual elements was made possible by a simple lamp that was placed in front of the band, casting whirling shadows on the strands of beads hanging behind them.

The performance concluded with a powerful cover of Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout” as Ibeyi joined in the fun. Featuring simple afrobeats and chanting vocals that showcased fervor and palpable energy, the song brought the entire audience into the fold as handfuls of victims of police brutality were made known: “Walter Scott, say his name, Walter Scott, say his name, Walter Scott, say his name, won’t you say his name?” It was visceral and raw and captured the brilliance of a poet like Byrne, who knows how to mix his mediums to absolute perfection.

DAVID BYRNE

Setlist:
Here
Lazy
I Zimbra (Talking Heads song)
Slippery People (Talking Heads song)
I Should Watch TV (David Byrne & St. Vincent cover)
Dog’s Mind
Everybody’s Coming to My House
This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) (Talking Heads song)
Once in a Lifetime (Talking Heads song)
Doing the Right Thing
Toe Jam (Brighton Port Authority cover)
Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) (Talking Heads song)
I Dance Like This
Bullet
Every Day Is a Miracle
Like Humans Do
Blind (Talking Heads song)
Burning Down the House (Talking Heads song)

Encore:
Dancing Together
The Great Curve (Talking Heads song)

Encore 2:
Hell You Talmbout (Janelle Monáe cover) (with Ibeyi)

IBEYI

No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms
Deathless
River
I Wanna Be Like You
Oya

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