“We woke up this morning and it was not the same America as yesterday,” mused David Byrne before playing at The Egg on Wednesday. A 75-minute set and generous encores later, he sang “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today,” title track of his new album with Brian Eno, a gorgeous rock masterpiece about change and permanence. So was the whole thrilling, funky and beautiful show.
Eight years after Byrne’s Talking Heads were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 32 years after they formed in Manhattan’s punk-rock cauldrons, and nearly 30 after Byrne first collaborated with Eno, Byrne brought Talking Heads classics and new Byrne/Eno songs to The Egg on Wednesday. With four players, three singers and three dancers behind him — all in white from shoes to watches — Byrne delivered an efficient, disciplined show whose highest points were well-loved Talking Heads tunes. Nothing ever stays new, and it took great energy and precision to replace the freshness of the Heads’ higher-education approach to punk and omnivorous funk and world music.
The new “Strange Overtones” proclaimed, “these beats are out of fashion” to start the show but neither those beats nor anything else that followed were obsolete. The familiar Afro-beat of “I Zimbra” and “Houses in Motion” of similar lineage and force engaged the capacity crowd — most of about Byrne’s (56) white-haired vintage — more than the newer “One Fine Day” and “Help Me Somebody” in between. “Houses” brought the first standing ovation.
Later, the classic Talking Heads’ dance explosions “Crosseyed and Painless” and “Once in a Lifetime” had the same effect on the new “Life Is Long.” A pretty and perfectly fine song, it sounded just a tad thin between the older fans’ faves. By then, however, the crowd’s mood matched the music in a mutual critical mass of jolting rhythms and joy so the newer songs held the fans’ energy more securely than they had earlier. Few sat down after “Crosseyed.”
A methodical performer who creates electric spontaneity through preparation and control, Byrne delegated the show’s more kinetic moves to his dancers who Xeroxed his moves, or vice versa, and interacted with the singers, instructing them to emulate their moves and re-arranging them by hijacking their mic stands. Byrne proved he still has all of his voice, including the falsetto he launched in the set-closing “I Feel My Stuff” and the bellow that capped “Take Me to the River,” the first of five encore songs. He carved flinty rhythm chords, noise solos and feedback blasts with his guitar, but keyboardist Mark Degli Antoni was the funk-rock-worldbeat Krazy Glue that snugged the grooves together.
Byrne’s new album with Eno “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today” is certainly a laudable effort: beautiful songs sung and played with consummate skill and commitment. Its best songs — “My Big Nurse” and the title track — displayed both the musical curiosity and command of all Byrne’s stylistic experiments. And hearing him survey old and new songs so rich in these strengths was a big treat.