The Rapidian

David Byrne and St. Vincent burn down the house at Meijer Gardens

On an overcast and occasionally rainy evening at Meijer Gardens, David Byrne and St. Vincent shone through the clouds with a beautifully weird performance.

/Brian Manitz

/Brian Manitz

/Brian Manitz

David Byrne has always been an eclectic musician. During his days as the frontman of Talking Heads, hoards of people were turned on to his quirky, uplifting-yet-serious songs including hits like “Life During Wartime” and “Psycho Killer.” Since the breakup of Talking Heads in 1991, Byrne has continued to deliver his eccentric brand of music, ranging from merengue and mambo to orchestral arrangements and straightforward rock.

Byrne’s most recent musical escapade is a collaboration album with the multi-talented Annie Clark, known on stage as St. Vincent. Their album, “Love this Giant,” is composed entirely of co-written songs, that were arranged for the eight piece brass band that they tour with. The group is also backed by a drummer and a keyboardist on stage, with a wide open area at the front of the stage for Byrne, Clark, and the brass band to execute whimsical choreography on every song.

The chemistry between Byrne and Clark was immediately on display during the lively, brassy set opener “Who,” with the pair’s interactions coming off as a highly stylized, Tim Burton-esque twist on Ken and Barbie –if Ken were twice the age of Barbie. The Ken and Barbie comparison seems the only fitting one for the marionette-like choreography between the two during some songs.

Part of what made this show great was not just the music, but the synchronized formations of the band during the songs. Constantly moving, the band would often march, sway, twist or dip along with the music. During the performance of the Talking Heads “Wild Wild Life,” Byrne and Clark led the band in a circling march, with each member of the band getting to sing a line from the song as they stepped past the microphone.

The performance, which lasted just under two hours, featured 22 songs ranging from Talking Heads to solo tracks from each artist to many co-written songs from “Love This Giant.” The Talking Heads songs were easily the biggest crowd pleasers, with everybody in the 1,500 person crowd standing as soon as they recognized the tune. I have never seen an old man shake his ass as fervently as the man doing so directly in front of me during “Road to Nowhere.”

Looking around in the crowd, the childish smiles and giddy dancing of many folks twice my age was more than enough to keep me cheesing right along with them. Of course the main reason for the excitement was the fact that we were all in the presence of David Byrne, one of the greatest songwriters of all time, performing with an energy that permeated through the clouds and rain at Meijer Gardens.

Someone as famous as David Byrne might be expected to be the outright star of this show, but the entire performance was expertly balanced, making sure the crowd knew that St. Vincent was on equal creative ground. Even though the band played a quartet of Talking Heads classics including “Burning Down the House” and “Naïve Melody (This Must Be the Place),” Clark often stole the show with her heavenly voice. Wielding an electric guitar and beautifully strange stage movements, Clark shone brightest when she got to perform her own material. With Byrne and the rest of the band literally laying on the stage playing their instruments, Clark captivated the crowd with one of her solo songs.

Not enough can be said about the balance of this show, though. While Clark stole the show on her tracks, Byrne was equally as good on his solo songs. Highlights included upbeat and insightful tracks “Lazy” and “Like Humans Do.”

From the friendly staff to the impeccably manicured grounds, every concert I have been to at the Frederik Meijer Gardens Summer Concert Series has been overwhelmingly positive. Naturally, my expectations for David Byrne and St. Vincent were high. However, the magic of the pair far exceeded anything I could have imagined.

There are not enough superlatives to describe the sensation of David Byrne and St. Vincent. It would be a tall task for another group of musicians to recreate the magic of their performance at this Summer Concert Series. Some moments, their antics on stage had me giggling hysterically out loud, and at other times questioning the nature of existence. The balance of old and new songs, as well as the interaction between Byrne and Clark, was just enough balance of theatrics and music to keep me smiling about the captivating performance well after its second encore.

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