Tuesday, June 9, 2009

David Byrne at Prospect Park

David Byrne's free Brooklyn show, playing the music of the Byrne/Eno collaborations, was a great Brooklyn event, even if the music was only so-so. Old David Byrne is inevitably not young David Byrne, and the need to co-ordinate with a big band and a lot of backup singers only added to his tendency to give the songs a mannered delivery, fussy and calculatedly antic where the original versions sounded genuinely strangled.

But it was still a great evening, not least because of the sheer fall-of-Saigon crowd---the pre-show line started at the 11th street bandshell, extended back to the 15th street entrance, then wrapped around twice. At least twice, that is---I never did manage to find the end of the line. Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn's elected mascot, gave his typical dem, dese, 'n' dose opening speech, which was charming as always (I hope he doesn't really have any power, but he's totally delightful as the political equivalent of Mr. Met).

I wasn't thrilled with the singing, or The David Byrne Modern Dancers (not their actual designation), who boogied around in loose modern-dance-wear while executing what mostly struck me as filler choreography. But it was delightful when Byrne danced along, and any opinion I have must be filtered through the fact that I could only see them in occasional 2-second increments between the heads of everyone else way out beyond the bandshell fence.

And the band had a great funky sound---they truly killed it on "I Zimbra"---and it was amazing to be reminded of just how many hits the Byrne/Eno collaboration produced, including "Once In A Lifetime", "Life During Wartime", and the big encore number, "Burning Down the House". My Life In The Bush of Ghosts remains the most ridiculously ahead-of-its-time record ever, and it's always neat to hear Byrne doing those songs live and singing all the samples, which turns them from collages into surprisingly cohesive songs.

That said, it was a shame that the carefully-planned show didn't give Byrne a chance to note, during the chorus of "Life During Wartime" that nowadays there ain't no Mudd Club nor CBGB. The Mudd Club was an early casualty---the Talking Heads were still playing "Wartime" on the road when it was gone. But while CBGB outlasted most of the bands that played there, the lyrics referencing it em-past-ened the music as surely as all the grade-school kids brought to the show by their parents.

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