By Evan Zigmond
David Byrne’s reputation precedes him. The former front man of the Talking Heads, successful author, and longtime solo artist knows not only how to pen a catchy and meaningful tune: he also knows how to perform. At the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, he flaunted his showmanship over the course of an hour and a half.
Within the large open-air venue, Byrne’s songs, aided by a massive sound system, carried very well all the way to the back of the crowd. At Blue Hills, a giant tent featuring both seated and standing options for those who want to contemplate and boogie, respectively, this was an impressive feat. Byrne wisely built anticipation before coming onstage by placing a single chair center-stage and throwing a spotlight onto it. When he got to his first chorus, the lights came up across the stage, and his backup dancers appeared. He placed attention-grabbing lighting like this throughout the show, from flickers to changes in color on the sides of the stage.
Byrne’s world music influences, acquired over the course of his very long career, were on full display. It was a captivating experience. His strong tenor voice soared over afro-Latin grooves, flutes, trumpets, saxophones, and even a Shekere. His songs were all at a medium tempo, convincing even the throng of middle-aged couples in the back to dance. Shows like this one are special, with visuals meticulously planned down to the finest detail to augment the music. David and his cohort of dancers and musicians all wore matching grey suits, grey slacks, and no socks or shoes. I felt like I was I was in a Pentecostal snake-handling church in the South, bearing witness to some time-forgotten ritual.
While the show was great from beginning to end, the best part had to be the last song. Byrne and his musicians performed a hair-raising rendition of the Janel Monae protest song “Hell You Talmbout”, a not-so-subtle jab at police brutality and institutional racism in the U.S. For six minutes, Byrne listed young men and women of color who have been murdered by the Police in the past decade, with chants of “say his name” and “say her name” reverberating through the pavilion and out into the street. This was poignant and intelligent: the song as it was written had much of the same world music influence that David was presenting previously in the set, and it also left a large impression on me to go back out into the world and affect change. It is certainly safe to say that, after all these years, David Byrne has still got it.