Concert Review: David Byrne at the Pabst (filter-mag.com)

I'll never forget Byrne's brilliant performance, nor the free third row seats I received from his PR company. I ought to review all of my concerts in Milwaukee.


David Byrne
Live at the Pabst Theater
Filter Grade: 91%
by Chris Ruen | 06.25.2004

Near the end of ex-Talking Head David Byrne’s 22-song set at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater, I had a moment of sorts.

By the end of his first set the entire audience, ages ranging from 20 to 60, was on it’s feet – feverishly dancing and clapping to “Psycho Killer” and “What a Day That Was.” The aisles were full, despite the best efforts of the theater’s staff to clear them. By this time in the evening, I’d come to accept an audience much older than I’m accustomed to. The majority of those who shelled out $45 to see this lower east side legend-turned 80s icon (anyone remember Kermit’s rendition of “Once in a Lifetime” on The Muppet Show?) looked just like the audience in Stop Making Sense, only aged a couple of decades. Most of their college-educated, “white” dance moves, however, hadn’t aged at all.

There was one moment when the age-ism present in all young music critics came pouring out of me. While dancing to “Blind,” I glanced over my right shoulder at the audience, and in the aisle five feet away saw a man of about 60, body long since fit, white hair – dancing hard to David Byrne. This white-haired guy was getting down.

“Do you see that guy next to you!?” I rhetorically asked the friend standing next to me.

“I know!” she yelled back. We both laughed.

After the show, however, when my friend and I were reminiscing about “all the old people getting down,” I realized that I’d become a victim of the irony I wield all too often. For as I was making fun of the old, dancing white-haired man next to me, I myself was dancing to and loudly cheering an old, white-haired man onstage whose performance would humble any of my generation’s young, fashionable rockers.

At the show’s start, David Byrne casually walked to his place center stage, dressed in a black jumpsuit and immediately began informing the audience about Liberace’s hidden physique.

“I went to the Liberace Museum and some of his outfits and capes were 200 pounds. Under that clothing was really a very buff Liberace.”

After a few chuckles from the audience, Byrne conceded, “Well, it would be nice to keep talking, but we have some songs we were planning on playing, so…1-2-3-4.”

The crowd laughed as Byrne counted off the beginning of “Glass, Concrete & Stone,” the serene first track off of his latest LP, Grown Backwards.

Byrne’s performance gathered momentum with each song, and the audience, if less responsive than in its younger days, gradually rose from its seats. The minority of young people at the show were the first to attack the aisles. But, with each song, a few more of Byrne’s longtime fans rose. It was impossible not to.

During the standout track, "The Great Intoxication," from the LP Look Into The Eyeball, Byrne put the audience under an electrified spell. Arms swinging, hips rocking, and his white hair ablaze under the pink stage lights, a few transcendent minutes ensued as Byrne emoted, “Who’s been working/On his masterpiece” to the captivated crowd.

The stage went black at the song’s close. The applause gave way to the easily recognized notes of the Talking Heads’ “Na├»ve Melody.” More and more in the audience stood to clap despite a lack of Byrne on stage. Suddenly he appeared at the rear of the stage, dancing backwards, drifting from stage left to right against a blue cyc wall. The crowd erupted once more, as they continued to do throughout the evening of classic Talking Heads songs and standouts from his solo career.

As he powered through a jaw-dropping rendition of “Life During Wartime” during the first encore, a powerful white light was lit behind him, projecting a 60 ft high shadow of Byrne’s dancing wiry frame on the audience. It was surreal, but that’s what he’s built his career on: obscuring reality a bit so that, in the end, it might become slightly easier to dissect.

A very sweaty, exhausted, and happy Byrne gathered with his fellow musicians (including Austin’s Tosca Strings) at the edge of the stage to wave a final goodbye to the emphatically cheering crowd. On this final night of his tour he showed that, yes, even the most “punk” punks will someday grow older, and get those white hairs. But, unlike Johnny Rotten or Debbie Harry, he seems to be okay with that.

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