Byrne's new band: Start making sense

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 16, 2012 - 9:13 PM

Talking Heads singer's debut gig with indie-rock's St. Vincent was arty, odd and often cool.

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David Byrne and St. Vincent performed the first show of their tour — and their first show together ever — at the State Theater in Minneapolis Saturday night. The show will get better with practice, but the group’s sound was appealing.

Photo: Tony Nelson, Special To Star Tribune

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It seemed like the musical equivalent of one of those May-December hookups. David Byrne, 60, the arty oddball behind Talking Heads, and St. Vincent, 29, the arty indie-rock darling, met at a party, and a hip New York City bookstore commissioned them to collaborate on a song.

Instead, they came up with a 12-song album, "Love This Giant," an intriguing, remarkably equitable, brass-dominated collaboration that sounds like neither of their solo careers. In short, it's a keeper. But the proof of a new band is onstage.

In its first concert ever Saturday night at the State Theatre in Minneapolis, the 12-piece David Byrne and St. Vincent group sounded like, well, a two-weekend affair. They seemed hot to trot, full of cool ideas and nervy enthusiasm (the album was released only five days earlier) as well as some odd ideas and heady intentions that were not well thought out. In short, it was an encouraging collaboration that will be more rewarding a few weeks and several performances down the road.

The coolest idea is the group's sound -- using a large brass and reed section to frame and define their songs. Musically, there were flashes of funk, passages of Pink Floydian grandeur, a serving of McCartneyesque pop, a taste of tango, a slice of New Orleans jazz and a sprinkling of Afro-Cuban jazz. Tunes from St. Vincent's three albums and Byrne's extensive work with Talking Heads and solo projects were weaved in quite seamlessly. And his and her voices blended effectively during the 100-minute set.

The odd ideas were the choreography and the lighting. Having the eight horn and reed players reposition themselves onstage for every song and sometimes dance or parade around the stage was distracting and often annoying. Byrne himself seemed more preoccupied with his choreographed movements -- even his familiar twitchy Talking Heads ones -- than with his singing and guitar playing. At least, St. Vincent's skittery robot-like dance nicely complemented Byrne's decaffeinated jitters.

The lighting concept was to cast shadows of the musicians on the backdrop. Well, this ain't no party, ain't no disco. It's a theater. Let's get artful, not low-budget.

Material from Byrne's career -- notably "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)," "Like Human," the disco-y "Lazy" and a smoking "Burning Down the House" -- received the most boisterous response from the near-capacity crowd. The best collaboration piece was "The One Who Broke Your Heart," a mashup of New Orleans and island sounds.

The show could benefit from more individual solos by some of the horn players and by St. Vincent (real name Annie Clark), who is a curious, Zappa-esque guitarist, and perhaps a cover of an R&B song or two.

In any case, here's hoping that the Byrne/St. Vincent collaboration develops into something more than a music-biz fling by a pair of oddball, arty experimentalists.

Set list: www.startribune.com/artcetera Twitter @jonbream • 612-673-1719

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