[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.