The character in David Byrne's "Finite = Alright" is like the protagonist in "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time": He comprehends his world through measurements and counts. Byrne isn't so precise. "I got some of the numbers wrong," he said in one of many appealingly nerdy song introductions at the Birchmere on Wednesday. "I couldn't even get my own height right!"
The interplay between Byrne and the musicians from his "Grown Backwards" album -- including the seven-piece Tosca Strings -- testified to his faith in measures: the primal beat of drums, the anxious pace of quickly bowed strings, the twitch of his own lanky body as he hopped from side to side as if waiting for a tennis serve. He can carry a tune, sure, but he prefers to swing it.
A sellout crowd was happy to chime in on a harmonic "Road to Nowhere" and the high notes on "Psycho Killer." But Byrne is a slave to the rhythm: On a less-than-bravura rendition of Cesaria Evora's "Aucensia," his tenor voice throbbed and his outstretched hands danced.
The vigorous ensemble, which eventually provided two encores, conjured up rarities like "UB Jesus" and hits like "Once in a Lifetime." Over time, Byrne talked less and rocked more. Crisp orchestral endings gave way to rock-and-roll fuzz. People danced, some atop their chairs. It was a party, maybe even a disco -- no fooling around.
-- Pamela Murray Winters