[Photo by DANNY CLINCH]
BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER 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 — much to the delight of the audience. 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.”
He was backed by a keyboardist, drummer, bassist, percussionist and three singers, with everyone dressed head to toe in white – no doubt a visual riff on the bleached gospel stylings of the surprisingly songful Everything That Happens. The ensemble was joined by a troika of dancers, also dressed in all-white, who zig-zagged back and forth across the stage in ever-shifting formations in a medley of expressive body tics and sweeping, immaculate physicality, sometimes entwining the backing singers in the choreography, and, just as often, Byrne himself, who it just so happens is pretty fleet of foot. Midway through “Once In A Lifetime” one of the dancers literally vaulted Byrne while he took a guitar solo. This prompted a second standing ovation.
Another would come two songs later — after “Life During Wartime” turned the Tower into a de facto disco party — during the arty hustle of “I Feel My Stuff,” which closed out the set. Byrne kicked off the first of two encores with a righteous reading of “Take Me To The River” and followed it up with a fairly incendiary “Burning Down The House.” He ended the show with a churchy, contemplative rendition of “Everything That Happens,” which, in the wake of Tuesday’s election, sounded like a benediction on the dawning of a new era.
“Nothing is different, but nothing’s the same,” he sang. Indeed.