The most engaging part of the live music experience is often found within the off-notes, the missed beats, the interruptions and heckling. Too much of that can be catastrophic, but minor disarray is endearing and gives you the sense of artists as real people. There was, however, no such chaos at the David Byrne and St. Vincent (Annie Clark) show at the Chicago Theatre this Tuesday, September 18th. When Byrne let out a chuckle, Clark retorted with “we didn’t choreograph laughter.”
That’s not to say that the event wasn’t fantastical – it was exceptionally so. An elegant pageant of brass players marching around, Clark’s puppet-like dance moves, the strangely compelling and weirdly robotic demeanor of Byrne were, in some ways, enchanting. But such an emphasis on theatrics and rehearsal can become disconnecting and mechanical. For Byrne and Clark, formation and organization took priority above all else.
At times the overwhelming theatricality was a distraction from both artists’ outstanding performances. Clark’s passionate voice, for example, was an incredibly powerful source of energy in the room. Byrne stepped aside as a supporting player to Clark for a good portion of the set, letting her voice take the reigns. Their set list favored songs from Love This Giant (2012), Byrne and Clark’s collaborative album, but also featured some of St. Vincent’s solo songs including “Marrow” and “Cheerleader,” as well as some of Byrne’s solo and Talking Heads material. It wasn’t until they performed Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place” that the audience got on their feet.
Both David Byrne and St. Vincent have left big footprints in the musical realm — Byrne with much more experience than Clark, Clark being a much more contemporary name than Byrne’s. The combination of the two is bound to have a large impact. Selling out the Chicago Theatre was an indication of this and worked well in some ways, but would have worked better if they had left themselves some room to breathe.