David Byrne and St. Vincent played a predictably cathartic set this weekend as part of their Love This Giant tour. Let’s take that apart. Love This Giant is a difficult and dense album—in some sense it is anti-internet because it requires multiple listens to fully unpack the nuances of the un-funk and chaotic brass arrangements. It may not be a total masterpiece, but it rises above simple collaborative curio: There is real depth in both the lyrics (credited as co-written but clearly go back and forth between Annie Clark’s forced smile and David Byrne’s outward gaze) and the music, which is a mixture of St. Vincent’s robo-funk stomp, David Byrne’s chord structures and lots and lots of brass. The live set brought the tightness of the record to a head, providing cathartic release for songs like “I Am An Ape,” which sounded suppressed on record.
It all came to life onstage. Byrne’s genteel request to turn off all iPads (maybe enjoy the show without devices) was a reminder that Byrne is still very much enamored with decency, exhibited when he took the time to introduce the musical projects of all 10 of the brass instrumentalists behind him. The brass was an integral part of both the album and the show—the complex arrangements integrated everything from big band, post-funk, St. Vincent-style syncopation and even a little ELO. Meanwhile, the musicians were choreographed like chess pieces, moving around to create an overall tapestry. Sometimes the band would weave between Clark and Byrne; other times it would lie flat on the floor; still other times it would form straight lines and overpower the stage with the natural punch of brass instruments.
This meshed with Byrne’s and Clark’s sense of personal drama: The Love This Giant show oscillated between frustrated groove and uplift, transitioning between new material and brass arrangements of songs from the back catalog. During the massive-sounding rendition of “Marrow,” the choreographed musicians formed lines around Clark as she sang, “H-E-L-P, help me, help me.” As the song reached another crescendo, the musicians closed in on Clark, giving a visual element to the natural theatricality of the music. This was immediately followed by one of the biggest tension releases in rock: Byrne took center stage for “This Must Be The Place,” which made the crowd swoon. When Byrne started his classically interpretive dance moves, there were tears. This one-two punch was only matched by the first encore of “Cruel” and “Burning Down The House,” which was less a display of catharsis than a victory lap for killer brass arrangements of great songs.
So OK, the Love This Giant tour was great and beautiful and sublime in parts—particularly the album closer “Outside Of Space And Time,” which was a little stiff on record but opened up live. If it sounds a little slight here, don’t let it—the non-memey solidity of this show lends itself to the ephemerality of personal experience. It’s not a show worth Tumbling about—there were no viral images or repetitive notions of collaborative consciousness (although I would love to see multiple Byrne GIFs). This isn’t a show that will fall into the collective headspace, which is both disappointing—as it was one of the best shows of the year—but also understandable. With the artifice and studied pretentiousness of Love This Giant, the album resists sublimation. In the same way, the Love This Giant show was intended to be a one-off good night for the crowd—take home a souvenir photo, an LP, a T-shirt, but the experience ends at the second encore. It’s not a show to use as cultural currency (“I was there”) but rather a perfect distillation of two titanic artists wanting to wow an audience with some brass. It was old-fashioned in that respect.