David Byrne, Royal Festival Hall, London and Dizzee Rascal, Fabric, London

Head boy at the art school dance
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The Independent Culture

'These are the words of the Dada poet Hugo Ball set to music ... This is a song arranged by Goran Bregovic from the soundtrack to the film Underground ... This is by the Italian songwriter Guiseppe Verdi ... This is a song I wrote for a New York dance project called The Catherine Wheel ... " Is David Byrne the world's artiest pop star? I can't think of many other artists who would announce so many songs in the manner above. And I can't think of many audiences who would shout "Wooh! Yeah!" in response.

With his brown slacks and brown shirt, hair as white as his comfy shoes, David Byrne looks less like an art-pop legend, more like a UPS parcel courier. He still hances like his limbs are pieces of string with pebbles at the ends, pulling off some tango moves doing the Hispanic numbers whch would make Niles Crane green with envy. Byrne's bizarre body language and general eccentricity ahs always been slightly supect. Tonight, when he straps on his acoustic guitar then realises he's preparing for the wrong song and affects a sharp intake of breath - "uhhh!" - there are embarrassed titters. If you're acting like that at twentysomething, it's most likely an affectation. If you're still doing it at 50-plus, it's surely real?

Byrne's solo ventures into world music might not float everyone's boat, but it has to be conceded that they're more integrated and natural than Damon Albarn's, less smug than Sting's or Paul Simon's. The material from his latest album, Grown Backwards, is perhaps more Anglo-Saxon: "She Only Sleeps With Me" ("This song is totally self-explanatory... " is reminiscent of Jonathan Richman's storyline-summarising songs in There's Something About Mary, while "The Other Side of This Life" ("I'm in a church of your hairdo/I'm in a shrine of your legs") echoes the big-band showtunes of Cole Porter.

In addition to alternate versions of his X-Press 2 hit, "Lazy", we get Talking Heads classics like "This Must Be The Place" (Naive Melody), "Road to Nowhere", "Blind" and "Once in a Lifetime", the bassline of which proves that an African influence has always been present. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

In the past twelve months, Dizzee Rascal has become a cause célèbre, feted by people whose taste in urban music would nevr normally travel so deep underground. Picking up a Mercury for his debut album Boy in Da Corner, he accepted his accolade politely, if quizzically, bewildering viewers with his semi-comprehensible, slang-heavy dedication to the rest of the UK garage scene.

Because Dizzee patently doesn't care about the gongs. He cares, for instance, about being on the same stage as Sovereign, a tiny 18-year-old female MC who raps about getting ID-checked, while her talented male sidekick human-beatboxes the bassline to Jacko's "Billie Jean".

Without gettign too sentimental about it, there is something undeniably thrilling about hearing people creating art int he argot of the city in which you live, rather than emulating America. Dizzee is defiantly British, and specifically London: paraphrasing Snoop, he talks about "so much drama in the LBH" (London Borough of Hackney?) as opposed to the LBC (Long Beach, California). "Afro-Caribbean singers and MCs, I swear to you," he says, in a speech so impassioned it's almost inarticulate, echoing the sentiments of Nas's "I Know I Can" for British ears, "Do your shit, don't net nuffin or nobody stop you, I swear to you." But local flavour would be worthless without the talent to make it work. Dizzee has it by the truckload. In many ways the Rascal, with his awkward stumbling gait and apparent shyness, is not a natural star, but a natural poet. And, as the saying goes, he knows it: he specifically refers to his "adolescent rage" and his "gift of the gab" (at school, he must have been a teacher's nightmare). Dizzee has a remarkable way of starting a between-song anecdote, and suddenly, without warning, you notice he's talking in rhythm. Then before you know it, he's into a volley of high-velocity verbiage, an articulate glossolalia. It's simple, and staggering. No dancers, no co-MCs, no hangers-on, just one man and his DJ (the, if you will, Bow Selecta).

Who, in turn, brings the house down by dropping the huge hollow beats and shrill vocal samples of "Fix Up Look Sharp", Dizzee's gobsmackingly unusual breakthrough anthem. "He sounds," as a random girl called Laura points out, "like a chicken", and she has a point.

In the last two years, a lot has changed for Dizzee, but in some ways it hasn't at all. In a track from his forthcoming second album Showtime, he admits he's "had enough of ghetto toughs" and asks "If I told you I was leaving the hood, would you call me a sinner?" As long as he keeps delivering beats and rhymes like this, we'll forgive anything.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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