My parents have been in town from San Diego for the past week. They just boarded a plane back to Southern California. It was an exciting trip. Not only were they able to eat at some of our best restaurants and drink at some of our finest breweries, they were also able to experience the extremes of Colorado weather. From blistering heat waves to basement burying flash floods, we rode the wave of uncertainty armed with rain ponchos and sunscreen. Housequake thunder and sparkling lightning were almost as common as blinding blue skies. Living at a mile high is something of an extreme sport, and the past few days have been a test of endurance. That being said, we didn’t only eat and drink and follow the weather radar across the Front Range, we decided to see a few rock legends as well. The Robert Plant show at Red Rocks and the David Byrne show at the Botanic Gardens at Chatfield were both arguments in favor of aging rock/pop stars – showcasing both performers in a new light, with new material and musicians, as well as new arrangements of their classic hits. But that’s where the similarities end.
The Robert Plant show at Red Rocks was not only an incredible performance by a rock legend, but a great night overall. We were able to tailgate and enjoy the show on a hot summer night. The reimagination of the classic songs was just different enough to sound fresh, but not so different as to disguise the originals as something other than what they were. It was also nice that he didn’t mess with “Going to California”, because the true-to-form rendition was a highlight of the night. The pre-party was perfect, The Black Angels were a great opening band, the show was amazing, and the drive home was a breeze. The same cannot be said for the David Byrne & St. Vincent last night.
Now, before you get all up in arms, let me say that the show last night was even better than what the Zeppelin front man had to offer. David Byrne has found a muse, musical partner and kindred spirit in Annie Clark. Along with an incredible brass section, the man behind my favorite 80’s band has teamed up with St. Vincent to bring art pop into the new millennium. Mr. Byrne has always had a signature style with his white suits and his stiff (precise) movements on stage; he is a born entertainer and it feels like every wave of his hand or jerk of his leg has been planned for optimal visual stimuli, so to see him give up the stage to an artist half his age, and to see her fill his space with ease, was nothing less than stunning.
You could say Annie Clark was mocking Byrne’s style by bleaching her hair and using choreographed, marionette movements, but you would be wrong. Annie Clark was St. Vincent before she met Byrne, and St. Vincent has her own style. The fact that her outfits and hair match Byrne’s is no accident, but she’s not trying to be a female facsimile of her mentor, it’s just that she, like Byrne, wants everything to look perfect. And it wasn’t just Clark and Byrne; the band had their marching orders as well. As they stomped around the stage during songs like “I Am an Ape”, not one of them was out of step. They were all a part of the choreographed show. These performances are as much about aesthetic as they are about music.
All the theatrics wouldn’t mean much if it weren’t for the music. I am a huge Talking Heads fan, and I like a lot of David Byrne and St. Vincent’s material, including Love This Giant, but nothing on that album prepared me for how well it would come to life on stage. I can say with confidence that there wasn’t a dull moment in the performance. Of course the classics, “This Must Be the Place”, “Wild Wild Life” and “Burning Down the House”, were amazing, especially with each musician bringing something fresh to each one, but other songs, like “Who”, “Cheerleader”, “Cruel” and “Lightning” are still stuck in my head. The funny thing is, those are Clark-driven songs. There is no doubt that the majority of the audience was there to see David Byrne, but you would have to be deaf and blind if you left this show disappointed that Clark got more airtime. I have seen her perform before and I have to say that she was 100% on point last night. I’m sure having David Byrne standing (and dancing the way only David Byrne can) next to you puts a little pressure on a young artist, but she showed no signs of cracking. In fact, she was as alive as the night sky above us.
Those who were there for David Byrne, and David Byrne alone, were rewarded for sticking around with back-to-back Talking Heads hits. “Burning Down the House” closed the show, but “Road to Nowhere” was not far behind. That song acted as the perfect encore, so I’m not sure why the mariachi, electronic jam session followed. But it didn’t matter, because at that point we were feeling no pain, at least not until we got to the parking lot.
OK, so now that I’ve given proper praise to one of the most unique performances I’ve seen in a very long time, I’ve got to talk about the shit show that came before and after…
First off, the rain. The menacing clouds were black and heavy as they surrounded us. We were standing in line to get through the gates as they teased us. The sky was a mixture of dark blues and greys to the North and West. We were still in the clear, but the occasional gust of wind would splatter our faces with the rain that we’d all get to know so well in a matter of minutes. It held out just long enough for us to get settled, then it attacked with a vengeance. We were wearing rain ponchos, under umbrellas, under a tarp and we still managed to get wet. Luckily, we had already ate our food in the car before coming in, because picnic time at the Botanic Gardens was not an option. Hour after hour, the sheets of rain poured down without a break in sight. We arrived at the show at 5pm, and by 7pm there was no sign that the band was going to take that stage. It wasn’t until 8pm that the crew came out with mops. And no matter how many times they played “Here Comes the Sun”, it looked more likely that George Harrison’s ghost would grace us with his presence than the clouds giving way to our nearest star. But at 8:15pm the rain stopped (for the most part) and the show began…
The aftermath of the storm was clear when we were trying to leave. The parking field had become a mud pit. Cars and trucks and SUVs were stuck and spinning out everywhere. The lack of any guidance had cars driving every which way, cutting each other off, trying to get to the main road. It was an extremely frustrating experience with extremely inconsiderate drivers. Traffic brings out the worst in humanity, and it was sad to see and feel all that hostility after such an amazing concert.
The nail in the coffin of our night came when we got home. The flash floods had been extremely bad in our neighborhood. Our house had flooded (although not badly) and the storm had literally scared the shit out of our dogs. We spent the midnight hour cleaning up water and crap. So as I said before, the Robert Plant show/evening was the better experience, but as I’ve made clear above, the David Byrne & St. Vincent show was the better performance. And now that I’ve invested in sandbags and am done with outdoor shows for the rest of the month, bring on the rain!
Weekend in the Dust
I Am an Ape
This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)
The Forest Awakes
Like Humans Do
Wild Wild Life
I Should Watch TV
The One Who Broke Your Heart
Burning Down The House
Road to Nowhere
Brass/Electronic jam session