Last week, Mr. Burdy and I went to see the inimitable David Byrne at the 5th Avenue Theater here in Seattle. The venue is one of my favorites not only because of the grandiose they-don’t-make-’em-like-this-anymore beauty but because of how the seats are arranged. They cascade down from the balcony to the stage at a slight angle so each seat is offset from the one in front of it. This means there’s literally not a bad seat in the house. No one’s head is directly in your line of sight. See that, arena designers and theater owners? I will gladly pay that “service charge” for the privilege of being able to see past Herman Munster, who, invariably sits RIGHT in front of me at every show.
Anywho, David was amazing. Annie Clark was a quirky, loud, dissonant and choral counterpart to David Byrne’s contemplative humans-are-odd-birds lyrics and the whole show was a seesaw between a post-modern rock show and classic Byrne tunes. Hearing those older tunes made me feel sorta bad for the rest of the Talking Heads. The whole audience stood up and collectively pooped its pants during the first few notes of “This Must Be The Place”, and then again for “Burning Down the House”. I imagine the rest of the Talking Heads have some kind of built-in sonar that makes them cup their ears at cocktail parties and lean into the wind, explaining to their guests in a melancholic tone, “Oh, it’s nothing… Just that… sometimes I can pick up the sound of 20,000 people in another city singing along to ‘Life During Wartime'”.
I wonder if performers who have been playing the same songs for thirty years ever get tired of it. I’ve seen lots of artists plod through the measures of stuff they’ve been playing for a long time, and it just makes me feel a little sorry for them. Audiences love that stuff because it calls up for them some part of their adolescence, or some critical happy moment that they get to relive every time they hear it… but for the artists, it’s just a song they wrote a long time ago; artistically, they’ve probably moved on. And David Byrne, more than most artists I know, has done artistic loops around the moon. They guy is prolific and explores so many different themes in his music. He still delivers the older stuff with as much punch and vigor as he did back in the day (dude can still hit all those notes!), but he, especially, is probably solving for x, or mentally organizing his sock drawer while he’s playing, because those songs are rote by now. I imagine he asks himself while he’s playing: “Why do humans fixate on point in time? And isn’t it fascinating that we have the capacity to strongly equate time with sound? Oo! I think a few notes on the theramin would work right here!…”
At the Beirut show, I thought about my younger concert-going days, when I was seeing shows as a teenager and wondering what the story was with those reserved “older” people standing at the edge of the crowd with their arms folded across their chests, glowering . Now I AM that “older” lady standing at the edge of the crowd, trying to enjoy the music and ignore the drunken weaving and bobbing and off-key singing and air punching in front of me. Oh, Time. You are a sneaky devil, aren’t you? I have become the thing I never thought I would be. And there you go, Mr. Byrne. I’ve just written the first lines of your new song for you. Insert theramin here.