POP / Don't say he's enjoying himself: It's that man again. Same old clothes, but a changing sound and another new band. Mark Wareham reviews David Byrne, an ordinary bloke with a nice line in material

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The Independent Online
As David Byrne and his three musicians trotted on stage at the Palladium on Tuesday night, you could sense an air of unreality about the place. It wasn't the appearance of an American musical ironist at the altar of British slapstick that had the audience confounded, so much as the fact that nobody realised he had taken the stage in the first place. A complete absence of ceremony, coupled with the fact that people were still shoving their way to their seats, meant that it was fully 10 seconds before it dawned on the audience that the long-haired bloke tuning the guitar was not a roadie at all, but Byrne himself.

This, of course, is how he likes it. The element of surprise, both as musician and showman, is as much a part of his diet as a quizzical lyric or an experimental guitar loop. Just as logic could not have expected him to abandon Talking Heads at the height of global domination, so it was never predictable that he would then go on to immerse himself in the sounds of Latin America or, indeed, film a quirky documentary or exhibit his arty photographs.

'This is a new band,' Byrne announced in that reedy, tremulous tone of his, though he needn't have. His low boredom threshold, combined with a restless desire for innovation, ensures that his band members don't exactly hang about. Precious few of the 16-strong Latin rhythm section from the 1990 Rei Momo tour were visible on his last visit two years ago, and it's a fairly safe bet that, of the current four-piece (for all their remarkable talents), the only one we'll see again will be Byrne himself. As fickle as Paul Simon in his adoption of musical cultures, Byrne is really more of a Bowie without the costumes.

In his simple all-black jeans, jacket and T-shirt, Byrne was evidently going to let the music do the talking - a minimalist approach intended to create the feeling of an intense behind-doors session rather than a fully blown concert. 'We're gonna do some old stuff, some new stuff and some stuff that is, uh, neither,' he told us, staring perplexedly at the upper circle.

There was precious little chat, but, whereas on the Rei Momo tour he had been forced to take a back seat by the overwhelming surge of Latin tempo, here you could not help but be transfixed by him. The characteristic turkey jerk of the neck, the slinky body moves, the bundles of extra-terrestrial, nervous energy, all had been restored to their former Talking Heads glory. You could have sworn Byrne was enjoying himself out there.

This has presumably come about as a result of his finest solo offering to date, the pure and simple David Byrne, the eponymous title reflecting the band's back-to-basics live approach. The Brazilian / Colombian / Cuban adventures have clearly left their mark, but, for the first time, the Latin influence blends succinctly into Byrne's house style. All that World Music absorption has finally paid off now that Byrne has allowed the Talking Head in him to regain the upper hand.

'Crash', a jazzy intro was held together by a light industrial snare, before generating into an impressive wail of guitar which finally yielded to the delicacy of the marimba. On 'Nothing at All', a slow rhythmic shuffler declared its jazz influence, only to give way to a bag of Byrne guitar tricks that had the drummer Todd Turkisher grinning in admiration, before crashing into a sequence of hollering vocals and extended axe grinding.

Lyrically, too, Byrne has recovered the sense of playfulness that was only fitfully apparent on Rei Momo and uh-oh. His best lines have a habit of detaching themselves and loitering in the head for days. Here we had, 'I'll trade you my potential mental illness for your . . . bad teeth'. This was in 'A Self-Made Man', a song about genetic engineering, which spawned an audience reaction not altogether associated with the rock gig format - laughter in recognition of a witty lyric.

Observers ever hopeful of a Talking Heads reunion would have taken heart from the fact that Byrne felt enough confidence in the new material to stand it proudly alongside some old Heads numbers. 'And She Was' came five songs in, a splendid acoustic rendition, made all the more enjoyable by Byrne remembering that the song had been about a girl in high school who 'did a lot of acid and lay out in a field near a chocolate factory in Baltimore'. Then came the clear-cut 'This Must Be the Place' and, later, Byrne adopted the tones of a preacherman to introduce 'Once in a Lifetime'.

At last, the Palladium got up and danced for 'Life During Wartime', the show's third and final encore. As the rapturous applause rang out, Byrne scurried off into the wings, but not before doing something he'd been threatening to do all night. He stood against the curtained backdrop, sharing a joke with the marimba player, and actually let loose a laugh. It would seem the good times are here again for David Byrne.

(Photograph omitted)

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