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David Byrne and St. Vincent Turn Post-Punk Into Broadway in Brooklyn

Photo by Gary Lupton

The most telling moment during David Byrne and St. Vincent’s brass-abetted Lacoste L!ve concert series performance at Brooklyn’s Williamsburg Park Saturday came about halfway through, in the middle of “This Must Be The Place,” the first of three Talking Heads songs scattered conservatively throughout the night. With an eight-piece horn section handling the song’s elegiac synth melody, Byrne reached the line “love me ’til my heart stops,” and all 12 musicians onstage paused for a beat in a musical realization of the lyric. Performing mostly songs from their new collaborative album Love This Giant, for nearly two hours, Byrne, Annie Clark (in the role of St. Vincent), and their 10-piece band staged a show so post-punk it was at times indistinguishable from musical theater.

Photo by Gary Lupton

With drummer Brian Wolfe at the far left of the stage, and keyboardist Daniel Mintseris at the far right, the horns (with a sousaphone tooting out basslines) also kept the stage entirely clear of amplifiers, a notable absence at any kind of large scale concert. Byrne, Clark, and company moved about in formation, casting clean shadows on the massive white scrim behind them. While Clark occasionally delivered a gnarled fuzzline from her Silvertone, rock’n’roll was hardly the mission of the show. “I heard a sound and a bird has flown, it breaks to pieces above the forest, a million particles born today,” Clark sang on “A Forest Awakes,” the kind of vivid, imagistic lyric that the choreography served to highlight.

At its best, the sophisticated horn layers recalled the flowering surrealism of the Brazilian tropicalismo, and a logical continuation of both Byrne’s occasional collaborations with Tom Zé and Caetano Veloso, as well as Clark’s own dense orchestrations. But Byrne, in a white suit and black suspenders to match his shock of white hair — and singing through a headset mic — also seemed perpetually on the verge of cutting a rug. He spent most of the night guitarless, dancing with the horn section, his hands twitching at his side, or jerking in the vernacular he began to refine in Talking Heads’ 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense, perhaps the moment punk began inching from the Bowery towards Broadway, step by jazz-handed step.

For the most part, music and production were a tasteful match, if rarely an ecstatic or spontaneous one. Churning horn parts on “The Forest Awakes” and “Ice Age” seemed made for movement, with the band’s shifts on the stage suggesting psychedelically spatial horn arrangements unfortunately unrepresented in the house mix. The most exciting musical moments came when the singers doubled the brass, Clark slipping into a falsetto on “Ice Age,” Byrne matching the trumpets with staccato bursts during the archetypal “I Should Watch TV.” When Byrne did don a guitar, the music snapped to life with his distinct Afro-funk lightness, ably uniting the horns and the drums with a presence that seemed to be missing for much of the performance.

Photo by Gary Lupton

Unlike a Broadway show (or a big time rock gig), however, Byrne and Clark ended their set without theatrics, opting for the ethereal album closing ballad, “Outside of Space and Time” before Byrne yelped a terse “thank you!” and the band took their bows. They came back, played some hits, and saved the synchronized exit for the Talking Heads’ “Road To Nowhere,” the group splitting in half, and departing gracefully into the wings.

Set List:
“Weekend in the Dust”
“Save Me From What I Want”
“Strange Overtones”
“I Am An Ape”
“This Must Be The Place”
“The Forest Awakes”
“Like Humans Do”
“Lightning” “Lazarus”
“I Should Watch TV” “Northern Lights”
“The One Who Broke Your Heart”
“Outside of Time and Space”

Encore 1:
“Cruel” “Burning Down the House”
“The Party”
“Road To Nowhere”

Photo by Gary Lupton Photo by Gary Lupton