By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha -- which is to demean oneself.
David Byrne, it seems, is a machine.
He's moving around the stage like a plastic doll in some art
student's stop-motion short film, like two successfully fused
halves of the mechanized mannequin parts in Herbie Hancock's
"Rockit'' video. He stepped onto the Cain's Ballroom stage
Thursday night upholstered in a pink, feathered suit, thick and
bulky like the white one in the quintessential video for one of the
disaffected anthems of his former band — the song he's opening the
show with, Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime.'' His voice is
clipped and cold, same as it ever was, and this old, cyclical lyric
spews forth the same questions — where does that highway go to,
and, my God, what have I done? — that none of us gathered for this
otherworldly, Harlan Ellison kind of display have found time to
He must be a machine. He hasn't aged. By the time the programmed
jungle rhythms for "The Gates of Paradise'' (from his latest
album, "Feelings'') begin tsk-tsk-tsking out of the timid speaker
stack, Byrne has stripped down to a baby blue jumpsuit that
outlines a very svelt and fit 45-year-old.
Grasping his guitar as the chorus riffs, he plants his feet
firmly just inches from the front row of wide-eyed, cautious
onlookers. He's so close that the peghead of his guitar nearly
smacks the hat off the head of Don Dickey, the cheshire-grinning
singer of Tulsa's own Evacuation of Oklahoma.
Byrne is right there in front of us. Two nights previous,
barricades and burly security goons kept a crowd of fanatics a safe
distance from Morrissey, a performer claimed by fans to be coursing
with real, palatable passions and, thus, to be esteemed as utterly
human. This David Byrne model requires no protection. He is a
machine. He must be replaceable.
The five people on this stage are machine components, anyway.
The keyboard player is merely pulling stops and turning knobs to
allow the samples and programs to speak. The drummer plays a live
snare and two cymbals; the rest are computer pads. The plucking and
strumming of the bass and Byrne's guitar are only the beginnings of
the sonic impulses, which — after numerous devices have encoded
the frequencies — are emitted as wholly new and unreal wavelengths.
Even Christina Wheeler, a dancer and backup singer, takes her
turn playing not an instrument but a portable station of sound
processors and compressors that capture her voice and utilize it as
the breath of a larger, more layered sound. The machinery is
co-opting the energy of humanity for its own artistic goals, the
kind of live-vs.-Memorex dichotomy we've seen this year mastered by
Bowie and muddled by Beck.
But this is Byrne, and he doesn't seem to let the technology
control him. If I dashed back to the sound board right now and
severed the power cables with a quick hatchet chop, I'm convinced
Byrne would still be able to make his music. He wears a headset
microphone and dresses his new songs in doo-dad drapery, but there
is a deeper and more fluid sense of art in this display than in
Beck's synthohol or Bowie's ice crystals.
Of all the classics to revive, Byrne starts playing the Al Green
song that gave the Talking Heads the first sign of a human face,
"Take Me to the River,'' and the cold, jerky Devo concert
atmosphere begins to thaw. For "Daddy Go Down,'' a roadie who had
just been adjusting microphone cables reappears on stage with a
fiddle and balances the martial drum machine with Circean sawing.
For "Dance on Vaseline,'' Byrne bops back to the stage wearing a
black T-shirt and a red, plaid kilt (his third costume change thus
far and, for many, the most titillating — a young woman shrieked,
"He's wearing tighty-whities!'') and chuckles about the, um,
slipperiness of love. People are bellowing, People are bouncing.
People are bobbing. Byrne, the efficient showman — show-man --
smiles and shakes and sweats. Machines can't do that.
The music swells and glows, like oceanic phosphorous — pouring
through the sensual balladry of "Soft Seduction,'' foaming with
the borderless joy of "Miss America'' and flowing swiftly through
the righteous riffing of "Angels.'' Finally, the set ends with a
song based on that live snare drum, another Talking Heads anthem --
"Road to Nowhere'' — recorded at the dawning of the derision of
the post-boomer generation and written as a reductio ad absurdum
argument against the prophesies of our detachment and cyberization.
No, we may not know exactly where this highway goes to, but with
Byrne running in place and the rest of us unconsciously jumping up
and down on the Cain's spring-loaded floor, it's clear that the
road leads somewhere and that Byrne is as good a piper to follow as
In fact, he raises us to such cheer and wonder that we won't let
him go. We call him back for an encore.
He returns, this time in the most astonishing costume I've seen
on a public stage: a full-body skin-tight suit, with only eye and
mouth holes, illustrating the body's underlying muscles and bones.
Like an alien child of the gimp in "Pulp Fiction'' and educational
television's Slim Goodbody, Byrne sings a slow, eerie version of
"Psycho Killer'' while climbing across the stage in slow motion.
After folding himself into a yoga posture, the band bows, exits,
and the crowd demands more. Byrne returns in another tight jumpsuit
featuring flames from toe to chest. The rhythm festival cranks up
for "I Zimbra.'' After a shouting, dancing frenzy, the band bows,
exits, and would you believe Tulsa demanded a third encore?
Exhausted and hoping to settle us down so that we'll let him leave,
he returns and plays the new lullaby "Amnesia.''
In our newfound calm, we discover we are at peace. It feels good
to be alive and to be human.
David Byrne, it seems, is very human.
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.