Review :: David Byrne & St. Vincent

January 23rd 2013

David Byrne and St Vincent
The State Theatre 18/01/13

Despite feeling like Love This Giant was a bit of a flat and uninspiring album, I went along to the State Theatre on Friday night with an open heart – my facebook feed was overrun with praise and smartphone pics of David Byrne and Annie Clark (aka St Vincent) from their first show the night before. Staying optimistic proved pretty astute on my part because holy hell, it was good.

We walked into the theatre to a looping aviary soundscape, creating a nice bit of symmetry with the tweeting going on in the crowd. It was the first quirk in a night full of them. The second was David Byrne’s disembodied voice interrupting the birdsong to encourage us to take photos and video if we wanted to, but just don’t spend the whole show with a gadget in front of your face ok? In one fell swoop he united young and old and immediately smashed any lingering expectation of art-rock indie pretense the crowd may have been harbouring.

8.20pm and out they came, David with suspenders and a high-slung acoustic guitar, Annie with heels and a Gibson SG. The band consisted of eight free-roaming brass and woodwind players, flanked by drums and keyboards in supporting roles. Starting with a nice, “thank you Sydney,” they dropped straight into lead single ‘Who’. The horns exploded in a terrific (if slightly too precise) approximation of lumpy New Orleans funk. From note one, David Byrne’s familiar crystal-clear tenor painted the walls of the theatre in broad, confident strokes. It was fresh for sure but the nostalgia was palpable.

It took St Vincent a little more time to hit her stride but when she did she was imperious. ‘Weekend in the Dust’, ‘Ice Age’ and her own ‘Save Me From What I Want’ were in one moment fragile and the next, thunderous.

She seemed as if she could be a Tim Burton creation; a contradiction blending delicate features, tight curls and a marionette comportment with a booming voice and face-melting guitar playing.

From the outset, the show was more musical theatre than rock show. The lights went out between each song and the horns would reconfigure around the two protagonists, setting up the next tableau. It was a cool format and rendered the horn players almost as stage props, or as a greek chorus sounding expositions of the play’s action. The horn arrangement was a rhythmic snarl at times, expansive and scenic at others – ‘The Forest Awakes’ an example of the former, while ‘Outside of Space and Time’ evoked the quiet splendour of deep love in deep space.

Between Byrne and Clark there was a chemistry borne of a sort of father-daughterly affection. He cut an avuncular figure, standing off to the side when Clark was singing lead, looking on with pageant-parent pride. His signature jerky stage moves, delivered as enthusiastically as ever, had their sharp angles rounded by age. His conviction though kept him just the right side of doddery and this was a nice counterpoint to the daughter’s slightly self-conscious performance.

In all, the show was a very generous one. David played Annie’s songs, Annie played David’s songs, and the obvious raison d’etre here was to crowd-please.

‘Burning Down The House’ and ‘Road To Nowhere’ were played late in the night and the crowd streamed to the stage like football fans post-match, swamping their victorious team. And they were victorious. It’s clear that the record was only a prelude; it’s their live show that makes the full-throated and completely convincing case for this collaboration.


More Sydney Festival 2013 Floggery here



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