Decked in white, David Byrne and his ensemble of musicians, singers, and dancers set the stage for a big tent revival, the sort of affair most associated with backwoods evangelists and Steve Martin’s Jonas Nightengale from Leap of Faith. Unlike the snake oil salesmen Byrne resembled, he sold no false prophets or wisdom, rather delivering a sermon on high full of existentialism and whimsy.
The Brian Eno-fueled evening kicked off with “Strange Overtones” from Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, as Byrne regaled the eager crowd with a story of love, basking in the glow of beats 20 years past due. It’s hard to come to grips with such a flippant idea since much of Byrne’s canon still sounds fresh and groundbreaking. The dance rhythms of “I, Zimbra” followed, further proving the point that what is old is new again in the hands of both Byrne and his young but talented band. It was the first time the crowd laid eyes on the skillful dancers in Byrne’s employ, each re-enacting the akimbo limbs and devil-may-care movements that made Byrne an early music video star to throngs who had not witnessed his outrageous choreography for themselves. No amount of stage antics distracted from the pulpit from which Byrne spoke, and when he launched himself into “Help Me Somebody” from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, it was evident that, while we may have been a willful congregation, the person Byrne was speaking to was himself. Granted, his words dripped of irony and wit, but the frenzied state the crowd worked themselves into mirrored Southern Baptist parishioners being saved by the word of Byrne.
Of course, the evening did not carry the weight of sin and salvation, but the fervor blanketing the crowd carried Byrne and crew increasingly higher. The stakes were continually raised, and aside from the crowd sitting through the slow sides of Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (“Life is Long,” “One Fine Day”), not one ass was to be found in their assigned seat. Old Talking Head favorites garnered the largest responses, and as “Heaven,” “Life During Wartime,” and “Once in a Lifetime” wound down the set, not an ounce of energy was spared by performers and crowd.
The encore ratcheted up the pomp, with “Cities” building the tension for Byrne’s big surprise: an invasion from the San Francisco outfit Extra Action Marching Band. The blend of 60s hygiene, 70s glam, and 80s decadence emitted from the flashy freaks paraded down the aisles to astonished gasps and unbridled cheers. Once they made their way to the stage, it became an all-out assault on Talking Head classics “Road to Nowhere” and “Burning Down the House.” If Byrne were to preach about the ride to hell being worth the fun, there’s no doubt this would provide more than enough proof. It was hard to take your eyes off of the 30 bodies heaving and shaking with the spirit of Brian Eno and David Byrne, and it wasn’t until the subdued finale of “Everything That Happens” when the dust settled and our souls were set free.