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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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Interview: Yeasayer’s Chris Keating on Beck, Barack Obama and the second album

Yeasayer, with Chris Keating far right

Yeasayer have been touring their debut album All Hour Cymbals relentlessly for the past year, so have Brooklyn’s finest experimentalists had time to even contemplate the follow-up? I tracked down singer Chris Keating to find out the latest for The Skinny.

It’s not long since you returned from your European tour. Did you enjoy that?

It was great!

You supported Beck recently too, good times?

It was definitely a dream come true. When I was 12 I really loved him, from the ages 12 to 18 I bought all his records.

Did you hang out much?

Yeah, we did actually. I wasn’t sure if we were gonna get to see him, or if he was gonna be a dick, but he was really nice, like extremely nice, a really cool guy to hang out with.

A bunch of us half drunken Skinny writers saw you at T in the Park, one of our highlights of the weekend. Did you enjoy playing the gig? People didn’t really come out in full force for that one did they?

It was probably just the competition in the line-up. That’s why I don’t really like going to those festivals. There’s too much going on.

So you prefer your own tours?

Definitely, I think everyone does. Maybe the headliner wouldn’t, but everyone else only gets to play for half an hour.

And you have another string of shows lined up?

Yeah, definitely. I’m not really sure about Europe because we’ve already played so many shows there. We’re looking to wind it down a little bit because we want to start working on some new stuff. [Yeasayer are ‘winding down’ with a 25-date tour of Australia, New Zealand and America from October to December]

Have you had any time to work on the first stages of the follow-up to All Hour Cymbals?

Absolutely. We’re fortunate that we recorded the entire first record by ourselves with very little outside help. We spent a couple of days in a studio where we mixed it but other than that we did everything ourselves. So every time I’m home I’m working on something, and I have a laptop that I take on the road. We have a lot of ideas.

How do you see it shaping up?

It’s gonna be a lot more realised than the last record.

Will it be a move forward? Your first record was already very ambitious, so do you think it will be hard to follow?

No, I don’t think so. I think it will give us a chance to push any tendencies we had on the first record even further. We’re a lot more comfortable now, sonically and as songwriters. On the last record I feel like we made a lot of mistakes, but I’m happy with the way it came out. There are a lot of different sounds we want to explore. We don’t want to remake that record, but we don’t want to start from scratch either.

Are you conscious of your niche fanbase, and would you like to open it out a bit more?

I would like to open up and appeal to as many people as possible, but at the same time I’m not willing to compromise in any way to do that. To reach more people I wouldn’t want to sign to a much larger label and compromise what we do. People who have supported us so far will like the next record better.

I read that you’re Cyndi Lauper fans, so you do have that pop sensibility…

Yeah I love Cyndi Lauper. I knew her records obviously, but we put it on one time on tour and we kept listening to it over and over again. It’s the way the songs are put together, and the textures of all the synthesizers and her voice. Money Changes Everything is an amazing song.

And as well as pop, the more credible music from that early 80s era is coming full circle again. Would you see yourselves as part of that?

I dunno, I find myself really enjoying a lot of that music, for nostalgia’s sake, and also I think it was a great era when people were really figuring out sequencers, when they were really figuring out the electronics behind rock bands. It was experimental in the 70s and then more realised in a pop way, and it’s really appealing music. And culturally I think music is cyclical, it goes through 15 or 20 year cycles, especially at this point, this confluating point. And bands today are referencing music from the past 40 years, from all of it.

And the internet has played a part in this?

That’s what we think. That’s the kinda postmodern idea. I’ve had to grapple with the music I’ve been exposed to, which is five generations of pop music, so I don’t really know where to start.

Are you familiar with the video for Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime, with the dancing?

Oh the Toni Basil thing. Yeah I have seen that.

The reason I ask is that I saw your performance on the Jools Holland show and it reminded me of David Byrne in that video.

People have said that. Maybe it’s this awkward white guy style of dancing. I’m trying to picture David Byrne dancing. I imagine him being more stoic, but there’s maybe something to the wanky white man thing!

Someone else who has already finished his European tour is Barack Obama. As a band you’ve come out in support of him, right?

Yeah.

Do you think he can live up to all the hope that’s been placed upon his shoulders?

No, I don’t think he can. But at the same time, no-one could. He’s not going to completely turn around all the problems of this country, but as far as I’m concerned we’re standing at a complete zero point, getting rid of this corrupt, backward-thinking government. He’d be the ideal guy to come in and try to change that. At least we’ll get him in there and then I can be disappointed. I don’t actually agree with some of his politics, and I’m looking forward to him getting to a point where he can actually talk about issues.

In the run-up to the election will you do anything else to aid his cause?

We’re gonna do a voter registration thing on our US tour. It’s the most important election of the last 50 years, so I don’t have a problem with coming out in support of Obama, or more importantly, against McCain.

Songs like 2080 are projecting a future that’s gone beyond the reach of politics, like a rejection of what politics has inflicted on the world. Do you see yourselves as a political band?

I’m not sure, but I don’t know how someone could write about what they see around them and not reference politics. I’ve always been interested in politics, but I’m not in a band to be political, I’m not Black Flag. But at the same time, in this day and age, how can you not be affected by the issues around you? As an American, I have higher hopes of what an American Government could be, and what an American culture could be, and that’s reflected in the music. Sometimes. Sometimes I write songs about love and flowers!

And have you started writing songs for the next album?

Yeah, a little bit here and there. We have a lot of demos we need to work on. But, seriously, I think we’ll be working in winter – fall or winter.

For a spring release?

It really depends on what happens. We’re not really sure what label to put it out with. It might be more of a summer thing.

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And the Bowie/Bing award for most unlikely collaboration goes to… David Byrne and Dizzee Rascal

Yep, that’s right. The silver-haired Talking Heads legend and the East London merchant of grime both – inexplicably – contribute vocals to ‘Toe Jam’, a single from Brighton Port Authority, Fatboy Slim’s new ‘secret’ alter-ego.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, there’s nakedness too:

Expect future contrubutions from Iggy Pop, Martha Wainwright and Jamie T.

Mr Zoe Ball clearly has some clout in the music biz.

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random playlist – volume one

random playlist - volume one

Because there are no rules for how music affects us, the way we listen can be pretty random. It’s not like we decide to listen to nothing but Canadian indie one week, then nothing but conscious hip hop the next. Instead, it depends more on the way we feel at the time than the style of the music. Sometimes I like nothing more than to put on a Prince record. Other times I just can’t be arsed with the nymphomaniacal glam-funk of ‘the vertically challenged one’. But the point I may or may not be getting to is that musical taste is something that’s constantly changing, from day to day and month to month, just like us. So here are a few tracks that could happily occupy my headphones at this precise moment in time (but not next week of course!)…

Brian Eno/David Byrne – Help Me Somebody

I just finished reading a Talking Heads biography, which turned me on to the underrated Eno/Byrne collaboration My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981). It’s an astonishing record – ambitious, ethnic, pulsating, haunting, and hugely influential on later dance music in its use of sampling. This track is pure visceral rhythm, sounding more like the green jungle of Africa than the concrete one of its inception.

Best heard: in a dark basement club, or through a bass-heavy PA system in a disused church. Yeah.

Hot Chip – One Pure Thought

From the eagerly-awaited new LP Made in the Dark, this quirky number is one of the best of the batch. It begins with a very un-Hot Chip intro of chilly, ragged guitar, followed by a stormy synth. It then takes a thoroughly unexpected direction when a booty-shaking Jamaican beat kicks in. It may be too stylistically wayward for some people’s tastes, but it is proof if we needed it of the London band’s genre-mangling creativity

Best heard: on a bus, gazing blankly at the rain-soaked streets and dreaming of summer.

The Enemy – You’re Not Alone

I know I know I know. At the risk of holding a lighter and an aerosol can to the last shred of credibility this blog may or may not have, let me state the case for the defence of this much derided, hugely derivative band. When I first saw The Enemy on TV I was not ennamoured. The singer looked like a drowned rat, the average age of their audience was about 14, and their sound is a lawyer’s baw-hair away from The Jam’s Greatest Hits. But then I bought this single on 7″ for 99p (there aren’t many records I won’t buy for that price) and took it home for a quick spin before work. Ok, so it’s basically the same football-terrace, angry-yoof posteuring of primitive lad-rock. But there’s something about that yelled chorus ‘you’re not alone’ that’s also completely valid and thrilling and exciting in its own right. The kids love it, and I can kinda see why. If you’re willing to suspend your chin stroking for three minutes and forty-five seconds, you might too. [If you still hate it, you must explain why you’re right – and I’m wrong – below.]  I’ll probably regret its inclusion in a month’s time of course.

Best heard: at one of their gigs, too wasted to care what your peers think of you.

Rob St John – Tipping In EP

I have to apologise to Rob St John for not getting round to this sooner, as he alerted me to his debut EP a month or so back. I don’t know why I haven’t mentioned it already, because this three-track release from the Fife Kills label has been on my MP3 player a lot. The Edinburgh songwriter is a rare talent, his hushed, melancholy songs full of timeless character (especially The Acid Test). With his finger-picking guitar playing, cello/accordian accompaniment and fireside voice, the obvious comparison is James Yorkston. I don’t know if he’s already tiring of this reference point, but it’s a huge compliment in my opinion.

Best heard: lying awake in the wee small hours.

Digitalism – Pogo

Their album Idealism has really grown on me. Their vocoder-led electroclash may be a bit obvious in an age where Daft Punk are the biggest dance act on the planet, but it’s still pretty fucking enjoyable, uplifting music. Pogo is perhaps the most human track – the only one that doesn’t sound like the bastard lovechild of Stephen Hawking and Nintendog.

Best heard: when you’re in dire need of a holiday.

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