Back in 1984, in an interview with himself, Talking Heads’ David Byrne stated that he would tour again “when there is something new to say to an audience.” While the songs themselves need not be new, the performance should be fresh and inventive, which in those days meant donning an oversized suit, serenading a floor lamp, and having band members appear one at a time. Their concert film of that year, Stop Making Sense, now has such significance for Talking Heads die-hards because it was frozen in time, never to be repeated.
The crowd at Seattle’s Fifth Avenue Theater last Wednesday during City Arts Fest was treated to another type of once-in-a-lifetime (no pun intended) experience when Byrne took the stage with guitar goddess St. Vincent (a.k.a. Annie Clark) and a bevy of brass players. In the course of two hours, the eight-piece horn section made their rounds of the stage: circling Byrne and Clark on “I Am An Ape,” marching in two columns on “Lazarus,” and closing in on Clark from left and right as she sang “The Forest Awakes.” Byrne was as endearing as ever – “This song is based on a true story,” he said as he introduced “I Should Watch TV,” no doubt alluding to his 1986 film, True Stories – but more often, he deferred to his younger counterpart, stepping back to join the horn players while she played selections from Actor and Strange Mercy. Meanwhile, Clark teetered about with her guitar and made sharp, carefully choreographed movements, as though there really were “ten strings tied to all ten of her fingers.”
The Love This Giant tracks made a big impression live, but the audience responded most favorably to Byrne and Clark’s pre-collaboration material. St. Vincent’s “Northern Lights” benefitted from Byrne’s help – he and Clark took turns playing theremin, thrusting their hands, heads, and feet towards the instrument. Clark delivered an emotional performance of “Cheerleader” in the city where she had written it, while “Burning Down the House” brought down the house during the encore. The duo even received a standing ovation for their rendition of “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” less than halfway through the main set. Byrne didn’t have a lamp to dance with this time, but the audience still understood what he was saying.