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Byrne-ing Down the House

David Byrne
Park West
Chicago, IL
May 20, 2001

David Byrne
David hits the high note.

Story and photos by Tony Bonyata

When onetime-Talking Heads leader David Byrne took the stage last Sunday evening at the Park West he not only left behind the props of his former band but also opened up a new chapter for his own engaging music. Gone were the boom box, big suit and quirky tango with a floor lamp that made the Heads' live shows of the mid-'80s feel as much like performance art as it did a rock concert.
David Byrne Opening up with "Revolution," a gentle, poignant number from his latest album Look Into The Eyeball, Byrne, with short gray, salad-tossed hair and clad in a green mechanics work suit, looked more like an aging gas station attendant than a rock star. Joined by just bassist Paul Frazier the song whispered volumes with Byrne's lilting vocals and lifting guitar.
The duo was then soon accompanied by drummer David Hilliard and auxiliary percussionist Mauro Refosco who gave a rhythmic, body shaking element to Byrne's music. Running through a healthy number of songs from Look Into The Eyeball, such as "The Great Intoxication," the infectious "Like Humans Do" and "U.B. Jesus," which was driven by a funky bass-line, he also worked in a few songs from his earlier solo works like the fragile "Soft Seduction," complete with eerily haunting keys, the playful "Buck Naked," with its thunderous chorus, and "Sax & Violins," which introduced a rich 6-piece string section.
Since leaving the Talking Heads Byrne has delved deeply into Brazilian and Latin music - compiling collections of some of the best South American music while also incorporating the beat and soul of the music into his own solo work. Although not as heavily influenced as previous tours, his performance in Chicago was still peppered with Brazilian rhythms and fiery Caribbean grooves on songs like the finger-snapping "Desconocido Soy."
But what tickled the late-thirties sold-out crowd more than anything else was when Byrne briefly slipped into his more well known past - covering a few Talking Heads numbers. "(Nothing but) Flowers," from their Naked album, started as a brittle acoustic piece which was soon heavily spiced with a percussive Latino flavor, as Byrne happily strummed his guitar and lightly tossed his slender hips back and forth in time. While he also pulled out a cheery version of "And She Was," as well as one of the Heads' signature songs "Once In A Lifetime," it was the hypnotic version of "What A Day That Was," that found Byrne at the top of his game, passionately braying in front of earthy congas and swirling violins and as if he'd been struck with a divine vision.
Despite the fact that his two final encore numbers - a cheeky, yet rote cover of Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" and the morose dirge of "The Accident" - lacked verve, Byrne's otherwise mesmerizing performance proved him to still cut quite a figure from his former (oversized) outfit.

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