David Byrne and Brian Eno, both long favorites of this blog, collaborated extensively between 1978-1980. Many of these classic albums have passed into the musical canon, most especially Talking Heads’ Remain in Light (1980) and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981).
There are lingering rumors of interpersonal friction, certainly within the four Talking Heads, but Byrne and Eno appear to have remained in light, as it were. As Byrne relates the story in the liner notes to their new album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, the possibility of his completing several of Eno’s stockpiled instrumental demos arose over dinner. The eventual result is a brilliant new album that is unmistakably the product of these two unique musicians, but is certainly no sequel or retread of past glories.
Touring to support the new material, Byrne challenged himself with the self-imposed restriction to draw from only the five albums on which he worked with Eno, with or without Talking Heads: More Songs about Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, Remain in Light, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. Even with this self-imposed limitation of albums that are all, frankly, kind of weird, it’s amazing how many toe-tapping pop songs they contain.
The excellently sequenced set list, mostly alternating between the weird and (relatively) normal, kept the massive Radio City Music Hall audience singing along. “Strange Overtones”, my favorite song from the new album, came first. Talking Heads’ “Crosseyed and Painless” proved an early climax, bringing the entire audience to their feet for most of the rest of the show. The only disappointment was that Byrne selected only one single track from the legendary My Life in the Bush of Ghosts: “Help Me Somebody”. It was imaginatively rearranged with live voices replacing the original’s found vocals (or as Byrne noted that we would call them today, samples). Why not try the same with some of the other great tracks on that album?
The stage design was perfectly austere, and deceptively simple. I especially liked the stark, monochromatic lighting design. The entire band was clad in white, and three modern dancers accompanied several songs with wittily choreographed routines. The show climaxed with a truly barnstorming version of “Burning Down the House”, with the entire band dressed in frilly tutus. It could only be completed by the startling appearance by… wait for it… the Rockettes! OMGWTF!? Needless to say, the crowd went bananas.
In short, I had a grand time. I have fewer qualms about rating movies on a five-star scale than I do concerts. Movies are cheap enough to rent in consume in large gulps. I end up seeing many bad or mediocre movies, but few concerts that suck. The likely explanation is the expense involved, which often limits the concerts I go to to artists that I already very much like. The only reason I didn’t rate this particular show higher is that I could imagine that if I could time-travel back to the 1980s and see the original Talking Heads (preferably during the period Adrian Belew was in their live band), it would easily merit five stars.