Live review: David Byrne, Glasgow Concert Hall, 31 March

David Byrne at Glasgow Concert Hall

[A very poor photograph from my balcony seat]

When David Byrne sings “This ain’t no Mudd Clubb, or CBGB” in Life During Wartime tonight, the lyric has never seemed so true. The formal, seated auditorium of Glasgow Concert Hall is the antithesis of the dirty Lower East Side punk clubs in which Byrne began his musical career.

But punk was never Byrne’s style anyway, and as soon as his ambitions grew too wide-ranging he left the scene behind, moving on to experiments with African rhythms and found sounds with studio boffin Brian Eno. And it’s this 30-year mutual admiration that forms the crux of this tour: Byrne is focussing solely on the three Talking Heads albums he made with Eno, their groundbreaking 1981 LP My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, and last year’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today – ignoring “the massive gap in between”, as he puts it.

So no matter how many times they shout it, the audience will not get to hear Psycho Killer. But they do manage to remind the Dumbarton-born Byrne of his Scottish connections with greetings of “Welcome home David”, and, when he’s jabbering on about Bush of Ghosts, stopping him short with “What’s yer point Davie?”, which the silver-haired icon greets with a wry smile, as if reminded of the blunt Scottish humour he left behind all those years ago. At one point he even raises the lights and picks out some extended family members.

But Byrne was never going to bow down to the brash, Glaswegian gig-going mentality. On this tour he has enlisted three modern ballet dancers, who perform behind him throughout most of a loose yet imaginatively staged two-hour set. This non-musical element is the talking point of the night, and although there are early whispers of derision, it all begins to click when we see that they’re really just having fun with it, whirling like windmills, gliding over the stage in office chairs and even leapfrogging over Byrne’s shoulders.

After a respectful early reaction, there is a burst of dancing in the aisles when Byrne and his superb band blaze through the complex grooves of Crosseyed and Painless. Despite Bush of Ghosts tracks like Help Me Somebody getting a rousing reception and the new material given an interesting treatment, it’s inevitably the Talking Heads songs that inspire that frenzied, I-can’t-believe-I’m-seeing-this excitement among the fans. It’s spine-tingling to watch Byrne perform Heaven, Take Me To The River and Burning Down the House. Were it not for the change in hair colour, it really could be Stop Making Sense again, as he jogs on the spot in his white flannel suit.

There were high expectations for this concert, but the performative imagination and youthful energy shown by a middle aged rock legend sailed beyond anyone’s preconceptions. Byrne has come a long way from CBGB’s, and his artistic journey shows no sign of ending.

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4 Comments

Filed under gigs, music, reviews

4 responses to “Live review: David Byrne, Glasgow Concert Hall, 31 March

  1. mark

    I was fortunate enough to be there and I was grinning from ear to ear, start to finish. My body was twitching along in an involuntary fashion, I couldn’t stop. My hands hurt today because I clapped so much.

    I had high expectations and Byrne & co. exceeded them. I’ve been a huge DB fan ever since my dad played their records in the house when I was a toddler (I used to think the words to psycho killer were “cycle killer” until I was about 10), so it was an eagerly anticipated moment for me. I love a lot of his solo work, so I wasn’t bothered about what he was going to play. In the end, I think it would’ve even satisfied the Talking Heads die-hards.

    The Great Curve was jaw-dropping, just as well.. pretty much everything they played. His voice also sounds better than ever.

    I’m not an arty farty person, but I love the dancers. Every alternating verse, Byrne would step out of the lights and they’d shine on whoever was singing as the dancers weaved in between the musicians. It created constant motion and contrast, no matter where you looked, there was something interesting going on.

    I just wish it had been in a venue where we could dance — the whole place would’ve been up and moving. In the end he brought the house down anyway. I can’t wait to see DB in future tours!

  2. I was there too!
    It was truly excellent. Heaven was, well, heavenly.
    Great to see him perform some of the old Talking heads tracks, as well as some of the slightly more obscure ones but the new tracks from Everything That Happens were also brilliant live.
    A great night.

  3. You pretty much summed up how I felt about it. I was kind of annoyed by the typical Glaswegian crowd interruptions of “Davey-boy!” in between every song, but it didn’t detract from the actual show. Indeed, being that I was sitting three rows from the front, there was an oddly intimate feeling throughout.

    I loved the dancing, because Byrne’s music and that of Talking Heads has always suggested to me a loose, whirling, joyous movement. It makes me dance when nobody’s looking. It had a spontaneity that suits the music better than a more rigid choreography. And yet, at certain moments it all came together to catch a falling Byrne, or leap right over his head… Very enjoyable.

    I was especially surprised and overjoyed by the inclusion of Born Under Punches, which was the one track that got me into Talking Heads in the first place.

  4. LAZ

    I was at this gig- thought it was amazing. I thought it wasn’t possible to have a gig with atmosphere at the Glasgow concert hall – but it rocked! Voice was amazing, song choice tops, dancers and backing were visually ace.

    -An impressed 30 something

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