This ain’t no Mud Club or CBGB’s, this is the Charlottesville Pavilion, and, ladies and gentlemen, as a member of the Talking Heads Class of ’77, I’m here to tell you that heaven is a place where David Byrne happens. O.K.? At least, for 113 minutes, which is how long he and his five musicians, three singers, and three dancers filled that magnificent big top, and which, if you were asking me to program it, would be restricted to artists, like Byrne and The Flaming Lips, who can truly bring the circus to town.
Burning down the Pavilion: David Byrne tore through nearly two hours of Talking Heads and Brian Eno material with his crew of white-decked dancers.
Taking the stage at 7:33, Byrne modestly approached the lead microphone, a vision in white from his shock of hair to his crisp jeans and guitar, commenting about his afternoon that apparently included a trip to the Rivanna and a meal at Jinx’s. (“Is it a creek or a river down that way?” he asked the assembling crowd, which is funny because who can imagine a hit single titled “Take Me to the Creek?”)
In fact, everybody was in white and this is important to note because it signified, in its completeness and simplicity, Byrne’s lifelong commitment to artistic coherence. This is not a guy who plays guitar against a backdrop. He is, as is mentioned in every review including this one, at heart an art student and from his first days with Talking Heads back when they were called the Autistics at the Rhode Island School of Design he has included music in a total stage vision that is deceptively simple.
He looks like a geek, remarkably fit I grant you at 50-plus-something, and he got his polyrhythmic thing going early in his career, but when you listen to those lyrics, it’s hard to deny the anxiety and strain, even if it is dressed in optimism: “ All I want is to breathe;” “In these troubled times, I still can see;” “I think I waited too long;” and of course, “How did I get here?”
And really, what artist worth his salt doesn’t serve anxiety in the main course? The craft comes in putting together the side dishes and condiments. That’s where Byrne’s dancers came in. Setting the trio free across the stage to corkscrew and scarecrow and gyrate and leapfrog (over the back of the headliner, thank you very much), Byrne made a quiet mockery of hip-hoppers and others who restrict their chorines to a cage or the side of the stage like so many hood ornaments. This is life during wartime, baby, so you might as well spiral across the burning house. How else do you expect to feel the air?
Byrne collaborated with God’s Greatest Living Female Choreographer (emphasis mine), Twyla Tharp, in the ’80s on a groundbreaking piece called The Catherine Wheel. So he knows from modern dance, legit-like. The piece that his dancers performed to “My Big Hands (Fall Through the Cracks)” from that work was not in fact made by Tharp, but by Annie B. Parsons, who Byrne name-checked, reaffirming his downtown cred and elevating her to a stature many contemporary choreographers can’t reach.
The show was organized around another of Byrne’s collaborations, namely the body of work he has made with Brian Eno, whom he referred to at the opening as a “British producer.” Describing the structure to come, he carefully avoided naming the Heads and said, “That’s the program, with appropriate wines. I’ll be your waiter. My name is David.”
The guy is definitely funny, even if he’s tense and nervous and he can’t relax. It took until the eleventh song, “Crosseyed and Painless” to get the full crowd relaxed enough to rise from their seats as one and start dancing.
Meanwhile, the stage was a harmonic fusion of arm gestures and little feet shuffles and dancing singers and singing dancers. A favorite moment: Second encore, when the dancers “played” unplugged electric guitars in a half-circle behind Byrne on the song “Air.” Get it?
Nearly two hours and three encores after he started, a beaming Byrne joined his stagemates, everyone now dressed in white tutus over their pants and dresses, to thunderous applause from the ecstatic Pavilion crowd, who walked into the humid night knowing indeed, it had been a party, it had been a disco, and truly, there had been lots of wonderful fooling around.