David Byrne Wows Crowd at Tampa Theatre

If I were putting together a list of the year’s best concerts in the Tampa Bay area, David Byrne’s show at Tampa Theatre would land somewhere near the top.

David ByrneMy review of the Dec. 12 show is now available at jambands.com, or read the full text below (photo courtesy of Byrne’s site):
David Byrne, Tampa Theatre, Tampa, FL- 12/12
Philip Booth
2008-12-22 Given his background as a visual artist and inveterate, relentlessly curious cultural explorer, it’s hardly a surprise that David Byrne concocts an intriguing new concept for each of his recording projects and tours — here an oversized Latin band, there a small combo with a vibraphonist.

Byrne’s latest tour, in support of this year’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, his first collaboration will Brian Eno in nearly 30 years, is no exception, as the former Talking Heads leader demonstrated on a return trip to Tampa Theatre, a beautifully appointed 1926 art deco movie palace that doubles as an intimate concert venue.

This time, Byrne was joined by keyboardist/programmer Mark De Gli Antoni, bassist Paul Frazier, drummer Graham Hawthorne, and percussionist Mauro Refosco plus back-up singers Kaissa, Redray Frazier and Jenni Muldaur, and a trio of hoofers. On many tunes, the vocalists and dancers, and sometimes Byrne, turned in a series of dance routines that were uniformly invigorating and creative, decidedly modern with nods to both theatrical and experimental influences.

The effect, with the entire troupe dressed in white and Byrne out front, topped with a shock of white hair, toting a Stratocaster, and putting body and soul into the performance, was mesmerizing. Cool detachment was out, and a warm sense of connection with the audience was in. Byrne even opened with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor: “It’s a set menu,” he promised. “No substitutions. I’ll be your waiter. My name’s Dave.”

The music, an exuberantly played mix of songs from the new CD, several Talking Heads albums, and the 1981 Byrne/Eno collaboration My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, kicked off with the new “Strange Overtones,” all low-riding bass and percussion groove, and squiggly synthesizer lines erupting during the instrumental break. Heads tune “I Zimbra,” with the dancers making their entrance, jumping, clapping, twisting and kicking, was followed by the electric-acoustic guitars, loping beat and gospel-edged textures of “One Fine Day.” “Help Me Somebody” (from Ghosts), with its subdued funk and found sounds, led into a tune that prompted the first of several standing ovations — an invigorating performance of the Heads’ “Houses in Motion,” replete with invigorating call-and-response singing, deep, percolating grooves, keyboard-generated sound effects and another round of jaw-dropping dance moves by Lily Baldwin, Natalie Kuhn and Steven Reker.

Those first five tunes were followed by 15 more (including three encores). The group, to the obvious delight of an audience that quickly surrendered to the music’s summons to dance, offered plenty of Heads favorites — “Heaven,” with its open-wide chorus and five-part vocal harmonies; the irresistible gospel drive and exquisite tension and release of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River”; “Crosseyed and Painless,” all chunky funk, unison vocals and whammy-bar guitar; the hypnotic “Once in a Lifetime” and “Life During Wartime”; and, late in the show, an aptly incendiary workout on “Burning Down the House.”

The new material was compelling and well received, too, and, as if to prove a point, Byrne closed the concert with “Everything That Happens,” a lush, slow-moving ballad built on chiming, air-hanging guitars, the leader’s fragile, vulnerable sounding vocals and big, gospel-edged background vocals. “Everything that happens will happen today/and nothing has changed, but nothing’s the same,” he sang, perhaps suggesting a thing or two about his approach to music/performance — carefully and artfully designed but always marked by in-the-moment appeal and spontaneous musical eruptions.

Byrne, at this point, has nothing left to prove. Still, at 58, he continues to give every performance as if it were going to be the one that defined his career. Yet again, he has delivered one of the year’s most memorable pop tours.

Winter Concert Picks: David Byrne, Derek Trucks/Susan Tedeschi, Galactic

Some folks around the Tampa Bay area are practically swooning in anticipation over several just-announced early 2009 shows by big pop and big hat acts.

Who’s coming?

  • Britney Spears, still cute, still annoying, still irrelevant (3/8, St. Pete Times forum);
  • Jessica Simpson, same as Britney (Florida Strawberry Festival);
  • Elton John/Billy Joel, once formidable pop/rock artists long off to other interests but back on the cash-grab trail (3/5, SPT Forum);
  • Fast-rising teen country star Taylor Swift (also Strawberry Fest).

Yawn. It’s all enough to make me elated that I’m no longer forced to consume standard-issue pop and rock for a living.

It’s a good bet that musical intrigue and non-rote performances will be in much greater supply at three under-publicized shows this month and next.

David Byrne, the former Talking Heads head, brings his “Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno” tour to Tampa Theatre on Dec. 12. He’s touring in support of Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, his first collaboration in nearly three decades with Brian Eno. Byrne’s work has remained vital and creative over the years, and his shows at Tampa Theatre have been among the area’s best concerts.

Reviews of the tour, which has Byrne and his four-piece band (keys, drums, bass, percussion) joined by three backup singers and three dancers, have been positive.

Jonathan Valaria, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, had this to say about a November show:

“David Byrne got his first of countless standing ovations Saturday night just five songs into his set at the Tower Theater, where he closed out the North American run of his ambitious tour in support of Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, his splendid second collaboration with Brian Eno.

Not surprisingly, the ovation was occasioned by the first Talking Heads song of the night – “Houses In Motion” from Remain in Light – but it was more than just a beloved old song that elicited such a response from the crowd, which, much like the 56-year-old Byrne, straddled the fulcrum of middle age.

No doubt drawing on lessons learned from his collaboration with choreographer extraordinaire Twyla Tharp, Byrne created a show that uses bodies in motion to advance the ambiguous narratives of his arty, multicultural rock music.

Byrne – looking fit, trim and sporting a magnificent shock of silver hair – sounded in fine voice and handled all guitar duties with surprising aplomb, expertly replicating the pneumatic wheeze of chords on “Home,” the angular funk-strum of “Crosseyed And Painless” and the molten leads of ‘I Feel My Stuff.’ ”

Also certain to be among the highlights of the winter concert season:

  • Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi’s Soul Stew Revival (Dec. 29, Tampa Theatre), a bluesy, jammy, funky collaboration between the Allman Brothers’ slide-guitar wizard and his wife, an impressive blues guitarist and singer-songwriter in her own right.
  • New Orleans funk/jam stars Galactic, with the Lee Boys (Jan. 2, Jannus Landing). Galactic’s grooves are deep and funky, and they often inject experimental sounds and hip-hop rhythms into the mix. I’ve seen the band upteen times, in the Tampa Bay area and in New Orleans, and I’ve only been disappointed when they’ve let guest rappers or singers hog the show. Not sure yet what’s up for this tour.