Once In A Lifetime
David Byrne at the O2
Reviewed by Angelica Campion
Last week, after waiting for over 30 years, I went to see David Byrne perform at the O2 in Greenwich.
Originally named the Millennium Dome and built to celebrate the third, and likely the last millennium, it has airport style security. They take away your bottle of water and when you get inside, charge you £3 for a replacement but without a lid. How useful.
PICTURE: Angelica Campion
Let’s start with the support act, the Mercury Prize winning Benjamin Clementine, whose albums At Least For Now & I Tell A Fly are really interesting. In an interview with the Guardian Clementine said ”I sang on the Paris Metro like I was playing in a stadium”. Unfortunately, he sang in this stadium like he was playing on the Paris Metro.
The three songs we sit through before we really can’t take any more, seem to be a vehicle for his wife Flo Morrissey. Wearing a full-length Puritan dress and twirling aimlessly around the stage, her vocals are louder than his. I’m sure they’re a nice couple and their baby Julian Jupiter is lovely, but this isn’t. My completely unfair opinion based solely on this performance at the O2, is that they would do better as a duo at an open mic night in Hastings.
Flo ‘n’ Ben were so boring we go and sit in the bar where they charge £100 for a glass of wine,
to wait for The Lord David of Byrne. I’ve not had time to get into his new album American Utopia (his first solo endeavour in 14 years) and am anxious there won’t be any Talking Heads songs. My expectations are low.
The stage is completely empty apart from David Byrne sitting at an occasional table holding a rubber brain, and the backdrop is a silver curtain like you used to get in Woolworths at Christmas. Or, just like they had at Azur last month for the Hastings Has Got Talent competition (which I couldn’t bring myself to review – don’t ask). So, this doesn’t bode well. David does Here off the new album, then the band come out and they do Lazy, I Zimbra and Slippery People. Huzzah!
The 12 musicians are completely wireless, their instruments are strapped on so they can be free to roam the stage in arty formation wearing identical grey suits – no backline, no amps, no pedals, nothing nailed down except the music.
In-between songs Mr Byrne stops to say that some people (even friends) have accused him of using backing tracks on this tour. He proves to us that all we’re hearing are some of the best musicians in the world. He introduces the band as they start playing one by one, Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) until they are all playing together. And it was true.
Later he tells us they’re ‘from all over’, and three are immigrants from Brazil. ‘We couldn’t do this show without them!’ The majority of 20,000 people cheer. David’s made it clear which side of the political divide he stands, and the audience are with him.
My smugness at managing to get myself a seat in the front block near the stage quickly fades when the audience stand up after a few songs. I’m 4ft 10” tall. Tried standing in the aisle but was shoved back by security. I’d not thought this through at all. However, with a lot of weaving left and right and the massive screen overhead, I manage to really enjoy the relentlessly innovative David Byrne and his bloody marvellous songs that tonight include Once In A Lifetime. (The National Public Radio in America named “Once in a Lifetime” one of the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century).
Fear of getting caught up in the crowds and missing the last train to Hastings like I almost did after seeing The The, I’m resigned to getting the penultimate train to avoid having a heart attack. This means leaving immediately after Burning Down the House and legging it to London Bridge. I’m told the encores I missed were Road To Nowhere & The Great Curve. (I’ve not quite got over that yet.)
It’s really cold and I get to the platform fifteen long minutes before the train is due. Plenty of time to write a poem?
Millennium Dome, Millennium Dome. I want to go home.
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