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August 28, 2013 5:49 pm
A bit of thought has gone into Love This Giant , the studio and now stage collaboration between ex-Talking Head David Byrne and the singer-songwriter St Vincent (aka Annie Clark). Scored mainly for brass, rather as a thought experiment, the album was made flesh in what often seemed like a charmingly hammy human puppet show. With everything done in choreographed steps, the principals pulled not only their own strings but those of the eight players variously on trumpet, trombones, French horn, flute, bass clarinet and sousaphone. I couldn’t help but go the way the winds were blowing.
Clark was a revelation. A peroxide PJ Harvey in her leather mini-dress, she took on rock chick, torch-song siren or any other vocal guise with aplomb, shuffling back and forth as if a piece of a cuckoo clock. Her tersely demented guitar turned the St Vincent song “Cheerleader” into a kind of grunge power-ballad.
Byrne, his hair as white as his flannels, did deliberately bad dad-dancing with studied dedication. Well before he had sung the line “My tricks are useless here”, on the parting Broadway confessional “Outside of Space and Time” and Clark had hailed him as “the archangel of absurdity”, the idea of them as an art-rock Prospero and Miranda had sprung to mind. Fundamentally benign but capable – Clark especially – of noisy fury. If “I Should Watch TV” epitomised Byrne’s almost anthropological interest in how we live now, its impassioned vocal proved he never lacks sympathy for our plight.
The brass section were certainly the mechanicals, acting as a sort of chorus (in the classical sense). On St Vincent’s “Marrow”, they flocked about the singer like fawning retainers. For Talking Heads’ “Wild Wild Life”, they each sang a phrase while doing the conga past the microphone. With the scrambled salsa of Love This Giant’s “The One Who Broke Your Heart”, they had most opportunity to strut their instrumental stuff.
The second encore was a delight. During the waltz-like moves of “The Party”, a St Vincent track, the brass carried the melody more completely than at any other time in the set. Then “Road to Nowhere” became a joyfully unhinged march, as Byrne, Clark and band eventually exited with a parodic New Orleans swagger. Is their world view absurd or realistic? Take your pick. They made superb travelling companions.
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