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RHYTHM OF LIFE: BYRNE SOLO STILL ECHOES ENO
The stage at the Civic Opera House on Sunday was a blur of rhythmic motion, with four musicians, three backing vocalists, three dancers and, of course, the reason for the sold-out crowd: venerated art-rocker David Byrne.
Byrne's collaborator on the recent album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today - as well as on the 1981 release My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts and the three most wildly inventive albums by his old band, Talking Heads - was nowhere in evidence among all of those white-clad bodies gyrating on the stark black stage.
Nevertheless, the influence of Brian Eno loomed large on nearly every note throughout the generous evening, both in the obvious way that the producer first inspired Byrne to explore and incorporate fluid African polyrhythms on the Talking Heads albums More Songs About Buildings And Food (1978), Fear Of Music (1979) and Remain In Light (1980), and in a harder-to-pin-down sense of oblique melody that the two honed as collaborating songwriters.
To be sure, it was largely a night about rhythm, and not even the staid and not at all dance-friendly setting of the opera house could dampen the crowd's ecstatic response to vintage Eno/African-era Talking Heads anthems such as Crosseyed And Painless, Life During Wartime and Once In A Lifetime.
But just as effective were the layered harmonies of new songs such as The River, One Fine Day and Life Is Long, which may have been more subtle and mid-tempo rhythmically but were deep and rich with moving vocal and guitar melodies. And, at a white-haired fifty-six years old, the night's star never sounded stronger vocally, approaching a sort of gospel grandeur on the new Byrne and Eno songs.
The musician also played more impressive electric guitar than he has in quite some time, churning out some entrancing E-bow drones in Never Thought and unleashing a particularly fiery solo in Houses In Motion, accompanied by his typically stiff-limbed and pseudo-spastic take on Chuck Berry's famous duck walk.
The latter was one more piece of evidence during a night that was full of them indicating that not only is Byrne back at the top of his game, thanks in part to the M.I.A. Eno, but he seems to be having more fun than he has in years.