Wednesday 28 August 2013

David Byrne & St Vincent - Roundhouse 27.08.2013

David Byrne, St Vincent  and a whole lotta brass.

The Roundhouse is rammed solid. There's a real buzz of expectation in the air.

David Byrne's disembodied voice politely requests that people refrain from recording and taking photos and watching the show 'through their iPads'. The crowd whoops its approval of these sentiments - and then proceeds to take no heed of his words at all.

This the 'Love This Giant' tour, just David Byrne, St Vincent (aka Annie Clark) and a large brass ensemble performing tracks from the album of the same name plus selections from their respective back catalogues.

The brass sound is impressive- a dozen musicians each specialising in a different instrument. These range from the familiar such as the slide trombone and the French horn, to the vast bass sousaphone, which lends a mighty 'oompah' to proceedings.

David Byrne, his hair white and wild, looks like a Victorian evangelist in a sombre suit (although he soon strips down to white shirt and braces). Annie Clark has dyed her hair blonde and is clad in black. This gives the early songs something of the air of a temperance meeting, with the brass as doleful as a Salvation Army band.

The section of the crowd around me behaves abominably throughout. Aside from the aforementioned tendency to record everything, despite being so far away from the stage that the exercise is completely futile, they use the St Vincent-led numbers to talk loudly to each other or go to the bar or bathroom. It's very depressing.

This audience of fifty somethings are basically here for David Byrne and even then only if he does Talking Heads stuff. It causes a friction when the artist is more radical than his audience.

Byrne first departs from the LTG material to sing 'Strange Overtones' from his previous collaboration with Brian Eno. The band parps solemnly along.

To my ears, this is a problem with much of tonight's music - unless in full-on swing mode, the brass accompaniment mainly seems gloomy and wistful, rendering it difficult to build any kind of sustained momentum in the set. It's all a bit sombre.

At later points in the evening we get versions of 'This Must be the Place (Naïve Melody) and a rare outing for Byrne's unexpected dance hit with X-Press 2 'Lazy'. The latter features some elaborate choreography and becomes a kind of church-y Sunday School hoedown.

Annie Clark is equal partner in tonight's enterprise. She has a fascinating guitar style which involves slapping at her instrument as though trying to extinguish a fire. Her highlight is a terrific version of 'Lightning', her shadow silhouetted on the big screen behind the players. She can also match Byrne’s robotic dancing, scuttling around the stage like a little automaton, or engaging him in a theremin duel during ‘Cruel’.

The band show great versatility in switching from jazz to funk to American marching band with alacrity. However, as noted above, a whole evening of this music becomes a little samey - and you can't quite escape the feeling that this veers into novelty territory, like Senor Coconut doing salsa versions of Kraftwerk, or Richard Cheese performing gangsta rap in a lounge style.

The encores give the audience what they came for, including a rousing version of 'Burning Down the House' which is much the best thing of the night and a slightly anaemic finale of 'Road to Nowhere'.

It's been rather a curate's egg of a show.  David Byrne and St Vincent will separately move on to other projects. The great thing about them is that they are happy to try new things - it would be good if they could take their fans along with them.


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