David Byrne and St. Vincent are longtime friends and collaborators who have played together on some of the world’s biggest stages, but rarely have they combined forces in such an intimate setting as the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Gala tonight (May 10) in Brooklyn, N.Y.
In celebration of Byrne and fellow Gala honorees Spike Lee and Claire Wood, St. Vincent performed “New York,” “Los Ageless,” and “Dancing With a Ghost” on solo electric guitar before welcoming Byrne to the stage. “I’m here to say a big thank you and ‘you’re the best’ to the one and only David Byrne,” she said. “David is one of the absolute greatest, most ebullient performers in the world.”
Rather than performing a song from their collaborative 2012 album Love This Giant, the pair kept things rooted in Brooklyn. “We kind of wanted to tie Spike into this somehow, so this is a song from Jungle Fever,” Byrne said before launching into Stevie Wonder’s “Chemical Love” from the film’s 1991 soundtrack. “It takes a little bit of nerve for us to do it,” he added with a laugh.
With St. Vincent on a drum machine and a dapper Byrne on electric guitar, the duo were amusingly out of sync for a few seconds before latching onto the song’s bouncy groove. “Yes, it’s true, the best things in life are free,” they sang. “Not material / chemical or physically.”
Earlier in the evening, lifelong Knicks fan Lee updated the audience on the halftime score of the team’s NBA playoff game against the Miami Heat before a speech touching on how his upbringing in the Fort Greene neighborhood that surrounds BAM has impacted his storied filmography. He also reminded the crowd that his 94-year-old father, famed jazz bassist Bill Lee, played on tracks by Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, and Peter, Paul, and Mary in the ’60s, which introduced the young Lee to a world far beyond his local community.