Once in a Lifetime

Richard Nevin watches David Byrne at Symphony Hall.

In true parliamentary style I must declare an interest, or in this case disinterest in David Byrne and Talking Heads. Well, that’s a bit strong I suppose, I’m just not a big fan, unlike my companion who offered me the ticket. The offer roused enough curiosity for me to abandon my usual Sunday afternoon date with Shefali and her regional news bulletin for a trip into town.

Most of the gigs I attend have me longing for obscure albums tracks or extended jams by my favourite artist rather than the big hits but in this case any over familiarity with a tune would be more than welcome. Not that I’m averse to new music, but for two hours it can sometimes become a bit of a slog.

So can politely sitting through the supporting artiste but to my surprise and delight Laura Mvula was first onto the Symphony Hall stage. She appeared slightly overwhelmed to be appearing in her home town when she spoke but the music belied any nerves. From Vangelis-like prog, through R’n’B balladry and African-influenced rhythms Mvula was utterly engaging as her voice soared into the rafters of Britain’s greatest concert hall.

Showcasing his latest album, American Utopia, Byrne assembled a twelve strong band to accompany him in what was an astonishing way to present a rock concert. An empty stage came alive with the former Talking Heads frontman leading his colleagues around as they played the role of strolling minstrels, part Stomp, part Rio carnival.

Tightly choreographed with minimal but effective lighting, each song was like a drama piece in its own right, which makes it sound somewhat dry. However, it was anything but. Full of humour and style and at times joyous, none more so than when the Talking Heads back catalogue was raided, bringing the audience to their feet, no mean feat in itself on a Sunday night in Birmingham.

Byrne appeared to be having the time of his life, the serious and studious replaced with wide grins and American sit-com style whooping every so often, his jet black thatch now a dignified silver making him look like a cross between Andy Warhol and Jerry St Clair from Phoenix Nights. At least he did from my lofty perch.

I’ve deliberately avoided mentioning any songs performed lest I be considered a spoiler. The whole travelling circus swings back into town later on this year at the Genting Arena, so do yourself a favour and buy a ticket. You won’t regret going. I didn’t and I’m no fan.