St. Vincent and David Byrne
Monday, Oct. 15, 2012
Better than: Pretty much everything else available digitally, on vinyl, and via smoke signals.
On their own, David Byrne and St. Vincent's Annie Clark are like charged particles of compositional virtuosity. They pivot on a dime from the experimental to the hyper-accessible. They zip across genres, bouncing, bludgeoning, and distributing mini-sweetnesses where they see fit. They cut their own trajectories, at their own pace, on their own time. Without something to equalize them -- to hew a little velocity off of their respective musical temperaments -- it's likely that their combined sonic output would pop like a supernova, blinding onlookers and shattering chandeliers and probably killing the odd grandmother or two.
By enlisting the help of an eight-piece brass band while crafting their recent collaborative album, Love This Giant, the two seem to have etched a pact of sorts: if neither party is entirely comfortable, perhaps the uncharted middle ground will yield something transcendent. On the album, the two opted to pull back their momentum and push the horns to the fore. The result was a lush and rewarding record -- one that's beautiful, bizarre, cohesive, and entirely different from anything either of them has done in the past.
Tonight, the songs from Love This Giant are exquisitely executed. "I Am An Ape," which features Byrne on vocals, is grandiose and cinematic; its pulsing beat and swooping melodies bring to mind a chase scene from an old Western. "The Forest Awakes," a loping and doomy waltz that Clark sings, is equally captivating. Throughout these songs, Byrne and Clark give each other plenty of space, as if afraid of what might happen if they strayed too close to each other. Meanwhile, the horn players act as antagonists. They circle Clark and Byrne like sharks, then advance like hungry wolves.
The horns temper Byrne and Clark's collaborative work to some degree, certainly. But they also enliven the two artists' original compositions. "Cruel" and "Northern Lights," which both sounded jagged and slightly thin on St. Vincent's 2011 release, Strange Mercy, are plump and regal tonight. Similarly, Byrne's Talking Heads classic, "Burning Down The House," sounds smoothed over; for better or worse, its insistent, jerky groove has been replaced with something more organic. Throughout the performance, Byrne, Clark, and the horns perform a series of synchronized dance moves that can only be described as some hybrid of "high school dance" and "high school marching band."
Though simple, these moves are immensely endearing. In the Spotify age, where perpetual access to indie music is the norm, there's a toxic assumption that it's now enough to simply show up and play your songs. Byrne and Clark, who hired a choreographer to help out with their tour, seem to understand that churning out music is only one half of a true performance. The other half is taking that music to a place one can't reach by simply sitting at home with the record on.
This is achieved, at least in part, by developing a rapport with the audience. "The music is merely a pretext to get you to buy stuff at the merch table," Byrne jokes before the band launches into "Lazarus," a chugging anthem from Love This Giant.
"I didn't come to set you freeeeeeee," he howls during the verse, knowing that that is, in fact, precisely why he came.
Phrases omitted, due to their overall terribleness: "Pseudo-cabaret," "Porcelain porn star."