Live Review – David Byrne & St Vincent at the State Theatre Sydney 18/1
Sometimes there are musical collaborations that bring an immediate ‘what-the?’ reflux, like Aerosmith and Run DMC for example (that happened). Or Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue.
(I still want to know what that was like through Kylie’s eyes, especially after Nick Cave’s book The Death of Bunny Munroe featured repeated fantasies about Kylie’s arse. Read Bunny Munro and then return to watch their live Big Day Out performance from 1996. It’s really quite creepy. But, I digress.)
Thankfully not creepy, but surprising nonetheless, was the announcement earlier in 2012 that David Byrne, formerly of Talking Heads, was siding with Annie Clarke of relatively new (like, certainly not 1975) artist St Vincent, for a collaborative record and subsequent tour.
But after the release of their first single and video, Who, the penny dropped on one of the most anticipated releases of the year – that there are two quirky individuals. And this could work!
The album went on to receive lukewarm reviews, but upon seeing Byrne and Clarke at the State Theatre on Friday night as part of Sydney Festival, I realised that Love This Giant was a work fully realised on stage, where its joyous absurdity could be played out in full grandeur, with the help of a ten piece band and David Byrne’s awkward dancing.
Looking sharp with his salt-and-pepper hair and white suit, David was the epitome of an ageing music legend. I considered myself as someone who never really knew Talking Heads music, but his voice is as familiar to me as anything from the 80s – like strawberry quik or repeats of Monkey Magic. So, I found myself singing along to just about all of Byrne’s former hits on the night – such as Burning Down the House or Lazy, in which he sings the famous ‘I’m wicked and I’m lazy’ and also the line ‘I dance lazy’, which really explained a lot on the night.
In comparison, everything about the beautiful Annie Clarke’s moves were controlled and in time. Even though much of her dancing resembled a geisha doll being pulled on a marionette string. Her porcelain skin and thin frame added to the effect, but this is one of St Vincent’s great tricks – that her looks and stunning voice betray her edginess, so you sometimes have to do a double-take to see if this pixie-faced women could be responsible for the almost-uncomfortable stabbing guitar sounds of tracks she played on the night such as Cruel, Cheerleader, Marrow and the haunting Northern Lights.
The opening track of the show was the dynamic Who, which hyped the audience into the evening, and gave a taste for the theatrics which would carry through the whole event. The exuberant brass backing band were part of a succession of staged dances with Clarke and Byrne, with steps and turns, some of which David looked comfortable with, but all of which he looked endearing-as-hell attempting.
Whether the band was laying down with trumpets raised skywards, or involved in an all-in waltzing dance, the choreography was a fitting compliment to these already grand songs. Highlights were The Forest Awakes, where Clarke made the audience gasp by hand-drumming skilfully on a synth machine, and I Should Watch TV, an ode to the Murdoch family, which displayed an inner despair in David that brought power to what I had thought one of the weaker songs from Love This Giant.
This State Theatre show was about theatrics, but was also a strange balance in all its parts. From the young and the old, to the rawness of St Vincent and familiarity of Talking Heads, from the stability of a full brass band to the sideswipe of a pheromone or synth drum machine. But within the world of this peculiar duo, all of these oppositions made perfect performance sense, resulting in an excitable audience that swelled into the aisles, or as St Vincent saw it ‘spread like a plague’.
Words by Katie Mayors
Photos by Jamie Williams