Concert review: David Byrne and St. Vincent at Strathmore

Kyle Gustafson/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST - David Byrne (far left) and St. Vincent (middle) perform at the Strathmore Music Hall as part of their joint tour.

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David Byrne has doggedly insisted on living in the musical present. But late into a two-hour set at the Strathmore Music Center on Sunday night, Byrne, performing jointly with new collaborator St. Vincent, offered a fleeting moment of arena-rock release. At the sound of the pulsating guitar intro to the Talking Heads’ classic “Burning Down the House,” the largely middle-aged audience collectively leapt to its feet with a fervor that indicated a pent-up desire to dance.

However, Byrne, adoptive New Yorker that he is, all but declared, “No soup for you!”

(Kyle Gustafson/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST) - The pair released a collaborative album, “Love This Giant,” earlier this month.

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Despite having turned 60 this year, Byrne hasn’t retreated from the front lines of sonic experimentation; he recently released, with Annie Clark (St. Vincent is her stage name), a typically adventurous album called “Love This Giant.” The bulk of Sunday’s show was given to cuts from that album, plus a handful that Clark and Byrne have released on their own. It was very much a shared-spotlight affair, with Byrne often receding behind Clark, a Bjork-like soprano who also happens to possess a digital armory of angular, fuzzed-out guitar licks.

Byrne and Clark were backed by a drummer, keyboardist and a funky eight-piece brass section that choreographically hit its marks as if in a fringe-theater musical. For the Clark-fronted “Cheerleader,” this ensemble — which even included the guy with the big bass tuba — lay on the stage, with a zombie-like Byrne popping up his head during each refrain.

In stark counterpoint to the band’s coruscating grooves and polyrhythms, and Clark’s shimmying, apparition-like presence, Byrne was a man out of place. Topped with unruly gray hair and wearing black-and-white saddle shoes, he could have been mistaken for an eccentric partner in a small-town law firm. On songs such as “Like Humans Do” and “I Am an Ape,” he was a wry people-watcher at least one remove from his fellow human critters. “Wanted to know what folks were thinking/To understand the land I live in,” he sang-rapped on “I Should Watch TV.” For the Talking Heads’s “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” Byrne featured a series of dance-like movements that might generously be called robotically minimalist.

Clark, at 30, is half Byrne’s age, but cut from the same convention-defying cloth. Byrne relished the chance to accompany her on the meanderingly, oddly infectious melodies of “Save Me From What I Want” and “Cruel.”

The intergenerational pairing, the crazy-quilt of traditional and house rhythms, the offbeat visual presentation — it all added up to a kind of show you’d never seen or heard before. Much to the chagrin of his former Talking Heads bandmates, David Byrne will not have it any other way.

Galupo is a freelance writer.

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