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Still Making Sense

David Byrne's Rare North American Performance a Timeless Gem

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Common sense abandons me all too frequently these days. I can sense its absence in brief moments of insight as a uselessly hold an internal debate, wondering if it's worth an evening shaking it out on the floor of the Fillmore with David Byrne turning his six-string guitar into a mind-expanding experiment. It's not really a question. We know the evening is worth it. It's more a matter of momentum, overcoming inertia and jumping out of the rut and into the rhythm.

Byrne came to Colorado Thursday night on one of only a handful of U.S. dates before taking the world on tour. Byrne has demonstrated album after album, as a soloist and a Talking Head, the ability to create an album that can seamlessly blend in with a career full of classics. He promised to mix it up Thursday night, and after opening with a quiet guitar and bass solo on his new "The Revolution," he launched into a two-way interpretation of "Nothing But Flowers," blending the song's original identity with the flavoring Byrne brings to more than ten years later.

"U.B. Jesus" and "Like Humans Do," also off Look Into the Eyeball, sound like they could have fit on Naked without losing any of the freshness that energizes Byrne's latest work. If he wasn't at the steering wheel of his driving world-beat rhythms, Byrne was using his songs' hypnotic pulse to unlock the imagination of his audience, traveling with us to a surprising, comical and bent dimension.

"Desconcido Soy" was among the highlights from his new material, a determined song blending a local string section with his untranslated Spanish lyrics. It's rare that an artist can respect his audience enough to count on their understanding and experiencing the song's impact without the crutch of sub-titles.

Byrne said little through the just-shy-of-two-hours concert, revealing no inclination to offer explanatory narrative for his engaging lyrics. On one occasion he augmented the character from "And She Was," casting his mind to a Baltimore girl and Yoo-Hoo soda to replicate the inspiration for the song's initial image. He also noted that the song "Naked" was his attempt to address AIDS in a way that made sense to his young niece and to himself. The dichotomy of a song's appeal, its ability to communicate effectively on such broad spectrums, has always been the trademark of a Byrne composition.

Even at the out-of-hand height of their popularity, Talking Heads had always attracted a crowd at least a little bit cooler than me. Apparently I'm the only Headhead who hadn't caught them at CBGB, back when they really burned, before music video and feature-length concert films flooded them into the mainstream. Byrne's concert was like a reunion of the old crowd, gathering together to pay tribute at the feet of the once and ever conscience of dance music. Gone were the MTV hangers-on, and with them went the compelling visual perspective that was as refreshingly welcome in the artificial '80s as his stripped down presentation is newly powerful today.

At times it seemed like Byrne was teasing his audience, taking himself to the verge of dance as he walked four beats in a line straight away from the microphone and four beats in a line straight back to it. That was about as physical as the show got, however, and although the crowd would have exploded at the recreation of Byrne's classic moves, they were content with the more cerebral straightforwardness, and compelled to create their own moves on the floor of the packed Fillmore Auditorium.

It's impossible to pick a single highlight from the evening's ever-escalating sense of wonder. If challenged to choose one, I'd have no qualms spending eternity with "Once in a Lifetime," tripping through time 'til it's the same as it ever was. Fifteen years or so after it was written, the song's shelf life has gone geometric on us, reverberating the way anchors like "Teenage Wasteland" and "Hey Hey, My My" do, flipping the lids of a generation that was sure it would burn out before it got old and couldn't possibly live to sing these songs from the other side. It's the ultimate payoff for an artist like Byrne, keeping pace with evolution long enough to embody an entirely new vocabulary of meaning in the images of another time, when "How did I get here?" was a rhetorical query.

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