It's rare that I'd have to start a concert review with Spoiler Alert and even rarer that I'd fall so hard for a show that was as well-planned and seemingly scripted as this event, but despite these caveats David Byrne and St. Vincent at Chicago Theater was Grade A entertainment and among my favorite shows of the year. It was a cosmic blend of art rock, diva-ism, New Orleans second line brass band, performance art, choreography, light design and sound engineering.
Of course, all music is art. But what Byrne, St. Vincent and their 10 piece backing band offer is more capital A "Art" (or even ART). The mission was to create a multi-sensory environment that was a vehicle for the audience to arrive at place out of time and space, and they accomplished this as effectively as any other exhibition.
From the beginning, the band was in constant motion -- running through coordinated dance moves, pantomime and whimsical hand motions oddly channeling the spirit of the music. Adding a new physical twist to every song (e.g. performing while sitting, lying down, marching, strolling, line dancing, etc.) with a just-creative-enough spark to keep the delight-o-meter pinned and the collective "what's next" at the front of my mind, these antics never reached the realm of distraction or sideshow. Rather, they provided yet another element from which to frame the sounds, rhythm and wildly undulating patterns that were emerging from the stage. With the large cast scattered among a bare stage, the lighting designer used shadows to add drama to and emphasis to the proceedings.
Meanwhile, the music -- drawn mostly from the excellent collaborative album Love This Giant -- was executed flawlessly amongst all this activity. Yes, it was rock music (though St. Vincent provided a touch of sultry torch singing to the proceedings), but filtered through the David Byrne school of social detachment and cerebral nervous energy. The eight-piece brass and reed section added a harmonious, enveloping, textured sonic element -- convening through the dialed-in sound system to provide all manner of wild and atypical sounds. Byrne and St. Vincent even had an animated theremin duel on top of it all.
One might think that relative newcomer St. Vincent would play second fiddle to Byrne's star power -- and indeed it was the Talking Heads songs that got the crowd finally up and out of their seats (not even songs from Bryne's solo career including the brilliant "Strange Overtones" and "Like Humans Do" received such an enthusiastic response). But in the scheme of things, the two played more like co-stars and partners in this grand production. Each of their strong voices were a fine complement to the other, they mirrored each others herky-jerky dance moves like two pieces of a weird kinetic puzzle and both artists were able to simply command the stage when appropriate.
For me, this was a great reminder that improvisation doesn't have a monopoly on diversity, creativity and passion in music. I may overlook it occasionally, but art certainly has a place in the world of live rock and roll. This is a show on a grand scale. I'm guessing it doesn't change much night to night but it doesn't have to in order to expand minds and create a sense of wonder. It is something to behold. And you could dance to it*.
* Chicago's show was primarily a seated affair save the aforementioned Talking Heads tunes and the double encore, but perhaps other tour stops, in different settings, may be more conducive to moving
David Byrne & St. Vincent
September 18th, 2012
Chicago Theater, Chicago, IL
Who, Weekend In The Dust, Save Me From What I Want*, Strange Overtones@, I Am An Ape, Marrow, Naive Melody (This Must Be The Place), The Forest Awakes, Optimist, Like Humans Do@, Lightning, Lazarus, Cheerleader*, Lazy@, I Should Watch TV, Northern Lights*, The One Who Broke Your Heart, Outside Of Space and Time
Cruel*, Burning Down The House
The Party*, Road To Nowhere
* St. Vincent Song
@ David Byrne Song
Five song video playlist from YouTube user shunn780 (great sound)