David Byrne @ Perth Zoo 04/02/09
Wandering through Perth Zoo after closing time on a Wednesday night was novel enough, particularly the entertaining marmoset who, on seeing us, swang around wildly and incautiously; perhaps in a last ditch effort to get our attention before the zoo closed for the night leaving him with only animals for conversation. Little did he know, that the guy from Talking Heads had attracted a full crowd for the next few hours, and had the monkey joined the audience, he might have picked up some new moves to entertain his own crowds in future.
Whatever expectations might have been brewing on the walk towards his familiar voice were quickly shelved once that last corner had been rounded; There stood David Byrne, albino from head to toe; surrounded by other, similarly clad, though more youthful, dancers prancing about the stage. It wasn’t a parody, it was a lifestyle choice... or something. Was this a misplaced sense of what the young kids are doing these days? Surely not.
From an aesthetics point of view, the all white ensemble nicely matched the man’s hair. Physically, the dancers were anything but typical, giving everyone in the audience something to look at that suited their taste. Theirs was not a masterpiece of choreography, at least not in any traditional sense; it was reminiscent of a bunch of poorly cloned zombie robots performing interpretive dance. That said, perhaps it was a masterpiece of choreography after all, and perhaps also, an accurate reflection of – “life’. In hindsight, the lyrical themes in the setlist appear to support the notion that just gong through the motions is not living. Nothing has really changed; Byrne and Brian Eno do pop the way Andy Warhol did pop. You can take it as it comes to you, or you can delve a little deeper, looking for relevance and a message. There is always a point, but you won’t necessarily understand it the first time you hear it.
Those in the audience, who hadn’t been queuing for food or drinks, were seated on picnic blankets with glasses of wine and antipasto, enjoying the string quartet dinner music, and seemed reluctant to move from their nests once Byrne began. They did watch attentively, clapping at appropriate times, with some even going so far as to scold other, more enthusiastic, concert goers who were forming a kind of a mosh pit at the front of the stage for – “blocking everyone’s view’. Does something snap in the motor coordination centres of women once they reach 40, or have they spent too much time – “dancing’ with 4 year olds that they think dancing is swinging their arms in arcs on either side of their hips whilst bending slightly at the waist, straightening, then repeat? Happily, this disturbing looking dance craze seemed to get old at about the same time as the audience decided sitting down was making them look old, and around a third of them got up and moved towards the stage.
The song that elicited this first audience response was titled Born Under Punches (the heat goes on) and it had the nice effect of making people move. The next song was the one that had the rest of the audience not only on its feet, but singing, bouncing and clapping along was, Once in a Lifetime From this point, there was no going back.
He did attempt to talk to us about the making of the new album, and tell us things we should know about some of the songs, but his mic was too soft to be heard easily, and rudely, none of the monkeys seemed very interested, so he gave that up at about this point as well, and just filled the rest of the set with 30 years worth of songs written between himself and Brian Eno. The list included Burning Down the House, Take Me to the River, I Feel My Stuff, Everything That Happens Will Happen, and Help Me Somebody.
The audience, once they had been jolted out of their own zombie-robot ruts, lapped it up, demanded two encores, and thanks to some interpretive dance and the lace tutus saved for the final encore, went home with something new to think about.