Sunday, January 31, 2010

Byrne, Baby, Byrne!

The first time I came across David Byrne’s music was with the Talking Heads and their 1977 song “Psycho Killer.”

At the time, I cited the simplistic song structure, considered them just another offshoot of the new punk movement, dismissively predicted they wouldn’t go very far. (My favorite bands at the time were prog rockers like Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.) Wow, was I off on that one! They not only became hugely popular through the 80s, but became one of my favorite bands (as well as turning out one of my Top 10 songs of all-time, "Once In A Lifetime").

Click here for Kermit the Frog's interpretation of this classic.

They hit a creative peak in 1984. I saw this concert when it came through Portland, and was quite unprepared for just how great it would be. It's somewhere at the top of my list of Best Concerts Ever.

There wasn't much room to grow from there however, and they released their last album in 1988. Although many people still bemoan the end of the band, I can certainly see why Byrne felt it was time to move on.

He hardly missed a beat though: While with the Heads, he had released three side projects: In 1981, the futuristic (and sampleriffic) My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts with Brian Eno; also in 1981, the soundtrack to The Catherine Wheel with choreographer extraordinaire Twyla Tharp; and in 1985, a set of musical interludes for a Robert Wilson opera, The Knee Plays.

Then one year after the last Talking Heads album, Byrne released his first solo album proper in 1989, Rei Momo, which expanded on his interest in Latin music. My favorite of his Latin-themed albums was his next, 1992's Uh Oh.

He returned the debt to his Latin influences by forming the label Luaka Bop and releasing music by (and exposing me to) his favorite South American artists, including Tom Ze, Caetano Veloso, and Jorge Ben.

In addition, Byrne wrote orchestral scores, for Robert Wilson's play The Forest and most notably for the film (and Oscar Winner) The Last Emperor.

In 2008, Byrne released a second project with Brian Eno, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, which is beautiful, almost spiritual music, while still catchy and warm. Well worth checking out.

Now he can add “author” and “bicycle rack designer” to his resume: The Bicycle Diaries, published in 2009, is a collection of observations from his bike travels around the world, as well as musings on the human condition. I wouldn't call it scholarly, in spite of the inside picture:

I recommend it; consider it some time spent with an interesting and informative friend.

This year’s (2010) project looks intriguing: A collaboration with “Brit-hop” producer Fatboy Slim (aka Norman Cook) – a logical matchup if ever there was one – a funky musical journey exploring the life and times of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, Here Lies Love, coming out in February. I’m really looking forward to it! Here’s a sampler:

And all the while, he continues to play concerts with inventive touches like interpretive dancers and (now expected) additional musicians to add new life to the old hits, as well as the solo numbers. I caught his show in Portland last fall, and the surprise appearance of San Francisco’s Extra Action Marching Band for the encore was a special treat.

Great stuff, all of it. You're on a roll, Mr. Byrne!

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