Music review: David Byrne & St. Vincent, Roundhouse, London

 

St. Vincent - Annie Clark, a young American singer-songwriter and virtuoso guitar player - introduces the Love This Giant band, who stamped a clear sound on the album of the same name she recorded with David Byrne last year; the tour also, she notes, “features a whole hell of a lot of brass” (eight players within a ten-man band). As for Byrne? Well, he’s just introduced as “The archangel of absurdity”.

It’s a good name for the former Talking Heads frontman, who with white hair, white shirt, trousers and shoes, and an unruffled demeanour, flies through the two-hour set, robot dancing and hip-swivelling. The band boogie too; much is loosely choreographed, with trumpet-waving conga lines and synchronised sousaphone shimmies. Clark alternately stands taut, legs spread, shredding that electric guitar, or scuttles back and forth on high heels, giving her an eerie, automaton gliding movement. With their silly but straight-faced shape-pulling, Byrne and Clark match each other in cheerily performative eccentricity. They’re like the coolest ever unlikely intergenerational wedding disco pairing.

There’s also real respect for each other’s music: as well as playing their collaborative album  - which comes to life excellently - there are brassed up versions of his and her’s solo material, as well as Talking Heads numbers. It’s clear which the audience prefers: they go crazy for "This Must Be the Place", which has a more laid-back groove (courtesy of much woodwind) than many of the new tracks, while "Road to Nowhere" provides a beaming big finish.

They sound good together too: Clark’s silky cool coos and trills have an almost electronic sheen, whereas Byrne’s vocals are ever-garrulous, dryly humorous. Occasionally, he goes fully bombastic, as on "I Am an Ape", while the band skank-walk, recreating the evolution of man with added parp.

Towards the end of the set, Clark pays tribute to Byrne’s singular talents, describing how a childhood encounter with his work made her realise music can take you to an “awesome, stratospheric” alternate place. Byrne has, she suggests, done what we all hope to do: “insert more joy into the universe than existed prior to us”. “Joy” sums up the evening, and the songs that follow brim with it. Her stand-out track "Cruel" is buoyed by brass and, even alongside growling guitar, the effect is giddily upbeat, while a rendition of Talking Heads’ "Burning Down the House" is tight, bright and duly sets the crowd alight. David Byrne + St. Vincent = joy squared.

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