David Byrne opened his show with St. Vincent on Monday night by thanking the Orpheum for breaking its run of The Lion King for their performance. The David Byrne-St. Vincent show wasn't too far off from the theater’s regular selection though. The eight piece brass band doing choreographed marching behind the duo had a theatrical effect, feeling somewhere between a Stop Making Sense-themed halftime show and an instrument-bearing ensemble in West Side Story.
The 60-year-old musical giant and 30-year-old indie star brought out a diverse crowd. Byrne was carrying on the legacy of art-school punk-turned-pop band, the Talking Heads, but some in the crowd seemed to be wondering “who is this pretty young talent helping espouse his eccentric philosophies?” The scalpers outside were only selling Byrne’s name on the tickets and there was an overabundant amount of “we love you David” cries from the audience.
You’d figure, though, that St. Vincent’s three studio albums of incredibly independent and experimental style, projects with diverse artists including Andrew Bird and Kid Cudi, and wide eyes on the cover of Spin magazine might have tipped these guys off as to who she is. Though St. Vincent did call Byrne at one point, “the resident preacher of the evening,” it was clear they were in equal limelight.
The two took turns performing songs from their collaboration, Love This Giant, as well as their own numbers, occasionally fitting their voices in for the harmony. The songs they picked from their respective catalogs carried themes from their joint album, including Byrne’s dilemma of trying to be human in modern America and St. Vincent’s struggles for freedom.
Though at times incredibly personal, the show had a broader message to its audience; one about people coming together despite their differences to figure out the strangeness of life. This was clearly illuminated in Byrne’s lines, “maybe someday we can stand together/ not afraid of what our eyes may see/ maybe someday I’ll understand it better/weird things inside of me.” Byrne even mimed some of these lyrics from “I Should Watch TV” so you couldn’t miss the point.
Everything about the show fit together like the perfect duet: each one had a distinct personality when you tried to focus on them but usually they flowed together seamlessly. When St. Vincent dropped her voice to fit with Byrne on the album and they gave it the egocentric sounding title, Love This Giant, (a reference to Byrne) a lot of the indie fans might have panicked that she would be overshadowed, but in fact this created really great tension.
It allowed St. Vincent to show off her tough core, like when she stood alone, legs apart, rocking on guitar and belting a cry for help in the song “Marrow” from her album Actor. Meanwhile, the band kept the energy up by standing behind her in two opposing lines, bobbing like the Sharks and Jets preparing to rumble.
Surprisingly, the two didn’t use their collaboration to develop from each other musically in the experimental way that Byrne has worked with others, like with Brian Eno. Aside from the brass band, which functioned more as a fun, symbolic decision, we saw the two employing a lot of styles from their previous work. It seemed like they knew already what they wanted their relationship to be: two people standing together despite their differences. And they pulled it off well (thankfully, without a hint of sexual tension).
In this nature, the two swapped soul-sharing moments throughout the show. It began with St. Vincent’s cries for support among flashing lights and dramatic staging while Byrne’s numbers were much more casual, with the musicians lounging around the stage.
As St. Vincent stepped into a more confident role later in the evening, Byrne began to open up with his self-mocking, “Lazy.” By the end though, both performers emerged from their calls to action and got the house on its feet for a small dance party to a few Talking Heads and St. Vincent solo hits, a rare treat in the formal theater setting.
All photos by Bennett Cox.