David Byrne/St Vincent

Hamer Hall, Melbourne, 15 January 2013

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I’d prepared myself for a bad night. You see I bought tickets to David Byrne and St Vincent’s concert on the strength of Byrne’s compelling and insightful book, How Music Works. It’s a great read. Byrne strikes a good balance between geeky scholarship and anecdotal casualness. The book reminded me of just how much I’ve enjoyed Byrne’s music over the years — he’s one of the truly great eccentric artists of the last century, and his music appeals to the head, heart and hips. So, when Ticketmaster sent me an email informing me that I could snaffle a couple of Byrne and St Vincent concert tickets cheaply I made an impulse purchase. I then listened to the album, Love This Giant.

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I didn’t exactly hate the album, but it seemed to lack something. It sounds a bit too cerebral, and programmed. The brass section that permeates the album sounded dull, and the songs lacked groove and melody. It sounded like a typically gridlocked pro-tools production, precise, but soulless. I listened to the work a couple of times, but just couldn’t get into it. In short, it sounded like an art-rock experiment that died in the lab.

The concert, though, was something else. The Byrne/St Vincent collaboration came to life on stage. The brass players were brilliant, and the songs lived and breathed with the push and pull of a very funky band. Byrne made sure the set was also a feast for the eyes. The entire band participated in simple choreographed dance moves, which gave the proceedings a theatrical edge. Byrne even threw in some of his trademark physical ticks, and St Vincent moved and grooved like the sublime beauty she is.

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The highlights for me, and most of the crowd it seemed, were the handful of Talking Heads classics that peppered the set — ‘This must be the Place (Naïve Melody)’, ‘Burning Down the House’ and ‘The Road to Nowhere’ brought the crowd to their feet, briefly transforming the staid surroundings of Hamer Hall into dance club.

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St Vincent held her own with some strikingly original guitar playing, and assured vocals. Her song about not wanting to be a Cheer Leader anymore showed a lot of punk spirit.

I’ve got a couple of suggestions for David Byrne in the wake of witnessing his brilliant performance last night. Re-record, Love This Giant as a live album, and, please, please reform Talking Heads, preferably with the extended line up.