David Byrne Puts On Surreal, Joyful Spectacle at Radio City Music Hall

Neil Ellingson

If “praise music” weren’t already a term for the insipid pop-rock used in many contemporary Christian worship services, it would be an apt description of what happened during David Byrne’s recent two-night stint at Radio City Music Hall. If you listened and watched closely, you were transported to an art rock tent revival, with Byrne as wriggly, silver-haired preacher man.

The concerts were part of the “Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno” tour, and featured selections from last summer’s heavenly Everything that Happens will Happen Today, 1981’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and the three Eno-produced Talking Heads albums.

Once acclimated to the reduction in lushness that accompanied the disc-to-stage transfer, the songs stood up surprisingly well, and got the sold-out crowd to stand up, too. As if David Byrne’s jittery moves center stage weren’t enough, three modern dancers and four choreographers added ecstatic dance numbers to the mix, incorporating Byrne, the back up singers, and the band. At best the choreography brought a surreal but joyful spectacle, and at worst was still cute. The surprise ending, with dozens of dancers in pink tutus filling the stage and doing a Rockettes kick line, was both. Throughout the show, the audience rose and offered up its own modest choreography, especially during the funkier Talking Heads classics.

Pay no attention to the sad man behind the harsh New York Times review of the concert. As Byrne notes in his Journal, this is the same guy who accused My Life in the Bush of Ghosts of cultural imperialism for its appropriation of African music. (I’d hate to hear his thoughts on Cubism, or every genre of American music ever). To approach this show with such a jaundiced critic’s eye is to miss the point, and the today in which everything happens.

Photos by Alex Pasternack

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