Ashley Fraser, The Ottawa Citizen
I feel a genuine sense of accomplishment every time I see one of my favourite musical artists perform, as if I've just checked another item off my bucket list. I've felt this with, in chronological order, Tool, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and Kathryn Calder, and now as of last night my eventual passing (preferably in my sleep at the age of 106) will be made a little easier after having seen David Byrne in concert.
Going into last night's show, one of the headlining events of Ottawa's 2013 TD Jazz Festival, I knew a fair bit less of St. Vincent, the stage name of Texan-turned-Manhattanite Annie Clark. I have one of her songs, "Actor Out of Work," in my music library thanks to one of those iTunes sample cards you can find at Starbucks, and her vocal contribution to Amanda Palmer's cover of "What's the Use of Wond'rin?" is sublime, but that was really the beginning and end of it. I emphasize "was," because after last night's show I feel compelled to check out more of her work.
Byrne and Clark have been touring in support of their 2012 collaboration Love This Giant, a collection of quirky indie tunes with full brass backing worthy of a classic funk or soul album. Interpersed throughout last night's show were a few tunes from each artist's solo career, as well as a couple of Talking Heads songs. Upon hearing the first few notes of "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)," I may have actually screamed with joy.The two artists brought eight of their brass players, along with a keyboardist and drummer, along for the tour and rather than have their session musicians stay put for the duration of the show they instead choreographed elaborate physical routines. From one song to the next, the band could be circling Byrne and Clark, or stepping in and out of phase like some brass-heavy squaredance, or even playing while laying flat on their backs. Each song's idiosyncratic look reminded me of the 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, and consequently there wasn't an uninteresting inclusion on the setlist.
Not that the show would have risked being boring otherwise. The two star artists (startists?) were at the top of their game, Byrne still sounding as distinct as he did at during his 1980s prime and Clark just shredding. I mean, it goes without saying that her voice is great and her twitchy, robotic stage mannerisms--like the way she shuffles back and forth on her high heels--are incredibly endearing, but that woman might be one of the most overlooked guitarists today, scraping and bending the strings like Adrian Belew did in his session work for Talking Heads back in their Remain in Light days.
Perhaps nothing better enhanced the show's atmosphere, however, than the literal atmosphere, the skies over Confederation Park in downtown Ottawa erupting into a full on thunderstorm two thirds of the way through the show. One particularly intense bout of the storm came during the climax of St. Vincent's "Northern Lights," as Byrne and Clark flailed, kicked and karate-chopped around a Theremin in an awesome musical duel that had me whooping with delight (for an example, here's a clip from a show earlier this year).
The intensifying electricity-drenched downpour put a half hour stop to the proceedings, during which I huddled under the umbrella of a generous nearby couple (my concert companion--and possible bastard son of David Byrne--Riley Byrne had scampered away with his own parasol). While the show resumed under the organizers' assumption that the storm had passed, the atmospheric tumult picked up with even greater fury a few minutes later. In an act of either purest serendipity or tongue-in-cheek improvisation, Byrne, Clark and company concluded their performance with an absolutely adrenaline-pumping rendition of Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House."
I left Confederation Park wetter than I would have gotten from an actual shower, my shoes filling with mud with each step and my headphones so soaked I was worried they would be rendered nonfunctional (they weren't, thankfully). My ticket, retrieved delicately from my pocket upon my arrival home forty-five minutes later, was saturated with rainwater, but after letting it dry I've decided this battered little stub will serve as the best possible memento for the best concert I've ever seen.