Byrnein’ Down the House
I didn’t know what to expect when David Byrne took the stage at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival Thursday night, except perhaps a band all dressed in white, having seen them recently perform one number on The Colbert Report. He could have been out of his element here, but that wasn’t going to happen today. What I saw on stage was a supremely confident performer in excellent voice with a strong supporting cast deliver a knockout show. My knees are still bouncing to the rhythm of I Zimbra and this featured set was the morning talk of the campgrounds. I had to remind myself several times I was at a bluegrass festival. Kudos to Planet Bluegrass for taking these kind of risks.
The reward was a sonic adventure, a trip into Uncle David’s Music Factory. The term artist is badly over-used, but it applies to Byrne. At times, I felt as if I was being treated to a showing of an eccentric uncle’s abstract paintings, the familiar ones I’ve always loved mixed with interesting new ones. Byrne’s canvas, of course, is a stage; skilled musicians and energetic dancers, the tools of his trade.
At other times, especially given the venue, it was a surreal scene: a white-haired, mild-mannered Mr. Rogers on acid in a white lab coat leading an adult sing-a-long amid a throng of bluegrass revelers. It was simply stunning.
Shortly after he took the stage, he told the audience that they’d be playing old songs, new songs and not much in between. What followed was prime material from the Talking Heads and Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. One Fine Day, My Big Nurse and the finale, Everything… represented the newer material while Heaven, Houses in Motion, Crosseyed and Painless, Once in a Lifetime, Life During Wartime and Burnin’ Down the House dipped into his vast catalogue.
The set, while utilizing older material, failed to succumb to the pitfall of feeling like a retrospective or a re-tread in any way. It was vigorous, vibrant and totally in the moment. The energy exchanged between Mr. Byrne, his band, his dancers and the audience was palpable.
This was one of those sets I’ll remember for a long time, so luminous that this morning, I’m still in its afterglow.
Regards from Telluride. KOTO is streaming live on this world web thingy.