By Karina Espinosa
Queen Elizabeth Theatre
23 May 2018
The delicious weirdness often associated with David Byrne and his music was on full display at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Playing to a sold-out crowd in Vancouver, the former Talking Heads front man delivered a quirky set that kept everyone on their feet throughout the night. But the usual trappings of a rock concert—including amps, chords, and a drum kit—were noticeably absent. Instead, Byrne and his band expanded the possibilities of a live show through simpler avenues.
Grey flooring and silvery fringe curtains adorned the stage. A beam of light shone down on a barefoot Byrne, at a desk holding a plastic model brain in his hands. While seated, he began “Here” from American Utopia—his first solo album in 14 years. Soon Byrne’s 11-piece band joined him onstage, also barefoot and donning identical grey suits. The crowd responded well to the meditative number, but when the band started to play the Talking Heads’ “I Zimbra,” everyone rose from their seats to start dancing.
Given the rich and varied sonic textures, it’d be easy to assume that at least some part of the performance was pre-recorded. But according to the front man, every sound was wireless. “Everything you hear coming off of this stage is being played by these wonderful musicians,” Byrne confirmed at one point during the set.
Choreography was another standout feature. While playing their instruments, the band members were in constant motion, twisting across the stage in post-modern patterns. Byrne wobbled around during the intro to “Once in a Lifetime,” recalling his younger self in the song’s 1980 music video. Like “Burning Down the House” and “There Must Be a Place (Naïve Melody),” the Talking Heads song triggered overwhelming applause from the audience.
And yet, the concert wasn’t quite a nostalgia show. Most of the night incorporated songs from American Utopia, and Byrne ended with a rendition of Janelle Monáe’s protest song “Hell You Talmbout.” Unlike a lot of old timers who’ll play material from the past, Byrne is always looking forward, innovating in his own, distinct way.
David Byrne, Queen Elizabeth Theatre