CHICAGO -- No doubt about it. David Byrne can still give a solid show, full of all the theatrics and off-beat color that made him famous.
His guitar, his spasmodic dancing and his costuming are well-timed and timeless. The show last Thursday at the Riviera theater was no exception as he captivated the capacity crowd of mostly long-time fans -- well-warmed by the New Orleans-style funk band Cool Bone.
However, there were some inherent hurdles in this tour that Byrne couldn't quite leap as gracefully as he used to. Since his days fronting the '70s new wave quartet, the Talking Heads, David Byrne has always had a penchant for attracting talent and drawing strength from the collaboration. Meanwhile, his collaborators, often lesser-known artists around the world, have enjoyed riding the tails of his wide-shouldered sports coat.
Byrne's most recent solo effort , Feelings, is no exception. He traveled
extensively while cutting the tracks in various home-studios around the
world, choosing just the right musicians for each song -- people who
were actively practicing the sounds he wanted to create. The result is a diverse departure from some of Byrne's other works that caused the singing guitarist to rely on a band which couldn't quite live up to or recreate his past.
The first problem arose as Byrne's four backup musicians failed to recreate the energy of some of his earlier work. Some old favorites played early in his 17-song set such as "Once In A Lifetime" suffered from the lack of Byrne's rythmn guitar. The instrumentation: electric pedal guitar, bass, guitar and a drummer using a mix of electric and acoustic percussion, with Byrne and Christina Wheeler on vocals diluted the set.
Granted, trying to traipse through the eclectic catalog of Talking Heads and solo material is a lot to ask of one band. As a result, the members didn't always connect with the songs, providing Byrne with a shaky foundation. Still, even several new songs, such as "Miss America" took on a much more electronic, dance-focused flavor than on the album.
But when push came to shove, Byrne carried the performance . He laid out a course that took evenly form Feelings, older solo material such as "Back in the Box" from his self-titled release, and Talking Heads songs including "Road to Nowhere" and "Take Me to the River."
And, let there be no mistake, this was typical Byrne, at least on the surface, from his pink-fur outfit to his blue pant suit to his kilt -- he changed clothes as often as he changed musical styles. His first of two encores found him in a
skin-tight Slim Goodbody-esque suit with bones and muscles illuminated
by black light. He led the band through a stylish modernization of the Talking Heads classic "Psycho Killer."
Despite the problems, no one seemed disappointed. Good or bad, Byrne gave the people what they wanted. And when things didn't sound so good up there, you could always feast your eyes on the charismatic iconoclast turned pop icon in the pink fur suit and smile. [Wed., Aug. 27, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]