Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Burning down the (Civic Opera) house

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The stage at the Civic Opera House on Sunday was a blur of rhythmic motion, with four musicians, three backing vocalists, three dancers and, of course, the reason for the sold-out crowd: venerated art-rocker David Byrne.

Byrne's collaborator on the recent album "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today"--as well as on the 1981 release "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts" and the three most wildly inventive albums by his old band, the Talking Heads--was nowhere in evidence among all of those white-clad bodies gyrating on the stark black stage.

Nevertheless, the influence of Brian Eno loomed large on nearly every note throughout the generous evening, both in the obvious way that the producer first inspired Byrne to explore and incorporate fluid African polyrhythms on the albums "More Songs About Buildings and Food" (1978), "Fear of Music" (1979) and "Remain in Light" (1980), and in a harder to pin down sense of oblique melody that the two honed as collaborating songwriters.

To be sure, it was largely a night about rhythm, and not even the staid and not at all dance-friendly setting of the opera house could dampen the crowd's ecstatic response to vintage Eno/African-era Talking Heads anthems such as "Crosseyed and Painless," "Life During Wartime" and "Once in A Lifetime."

But just as effective were the layered harmonies of new songs such as "The River," One Fine Day" and "Life Is Long," which may have been more subtle and mid-tempo rhythmically, but which were deep and rich with moving vocal and guitar melodies. And, at a white-haired 56 years old, the night's star never sounded stronger vocally, approaching a sort of gospel grandeur on the new Byrne and Eno songs.

The musician also played more impressive electric guitar than he has in quite some time, churning out some entrancing e-bow drones in "Never Thought" and unleashing a particularly fiery solo in "Houses in Motion," accompanied by his typically stiff-limbed and pseudo-spastic take on Chuck Berry's famous duck walk.

The latter was one more piece of evidence during a night that was full of them indicating that not only is Byrne back at the top of his game, thanks in part to the M.I.A. Eno, but he seems to be having more fun than he has in years.

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Fantastic show tonight! Byrne really was at the top of his game; fabulous voice, great guitar. Great audience too. If you can catch this guy live, do it. He's verging on American treasure territory.

To the Music critics of the world.
I'd like to relate an incident I experienced while attending the David Byrne concert last night (10/26) at the Chicago Civic Opera House.
I am not sure of the vocation of the gentleman that was sitting next to my date and I, but I can tell you that his appreciation for the music being played was not as apparent, or as strong as his need was, to take notes on his note pad which was illuminated by the constant glow of his smartphone/PDA.
I can immediately jump to the conclusion that he was a music critic. Whether employed by a reputable newspaper or magazine did not excuse his abhorrent behavior. He was distracting to our musical experience for nearly two thirds of the concert.
I am not about to openly allude to whom I thought he was, although I could easily by his physical similarity to known critics whose pictures are available on line. I may be wrong to his identity. He may be one of the many self published musical critics available throughout the internet. Regardless, his behavior was inexcusable.
I have a question to the professional music critics to whom I am sending a copy of this email.
How did the critics in the past write their critiques without the assist of our new slew of electronic devices?
Did they have the decency to experience the concert, whether it was personally enjoyed or not, and write about it afterward instead of during?
I am just curious.
BTW our seats were main floor LC row FF #14 and #16.
I paid hard earned cash for the opportunity, in my humble opinion, to experience a true musical genius perform in one of Chicago's most prestigious venues and this incident lessened our evening!

Byrne continues to produce cutting edge work, while managing to remain relevant/timeless. Last night was indeed an "ecstatic" experience. Bravo.

Yeah kinda harsh Bill. A variety of behavior at shows can be considered distracting, and its usually most disturbing when its out of context of the show. I think most music lovers would give Jim a wide birth in regards to this. And no, I've never sat next to a journalist who was preparing his column during the show, and i cant speak to how distracting it may have been, I wont say that all journalists who do such activity have always made sure to think of everybody else around them. But throughout his career, Jim has fought to protect the interest of fans, and I have no doubt that he would have been sensitive to your feelings had you said something. I think that journalists like Jim who have devoted their lives to the music they cover deserve the benefit of the doubt, and I hope that the other people who sat around Jim felt the same way.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on October 26, 2008 10:28 PM.

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