Live music galleries: David Byrne [2018]

(I got the idea for this series while sifting through the ‘piles’ of digital photos on my laptop. It occurred to me to share some of these great pics from some of my favourite concert sets from time to time. Like my ‘Vinyl love’ series, these posts will be more photos than words but that doesn’t mean I won’t welcome your thoughts and comments. And of course, until I get around to the next one, I invite you to peruse my ever-growing list of concerts of page.)

David Byrne and brain, live on atage, September 2018

Artist: David Byrne
When: September 13th, 2018
Where: City stage, CityFolk Festival, Ottawa
Context: So I wrapped up my best albums of the year series a few days (and it already feels like years) ago so I thought I’d squeeze in one last post before the end of the year. And what better to focus on but my favourite live set of the year. Yes, David Byrne. I’ve already mentioned on these pages how surprised I was by his performance when I posted about how he managed to squeeze his way into my top ten albums for the year. I’ve been a fairweather Talking Heads fan over the years, loving some songs obsessively but never to the point of investing in more than their greatest hits compilation and certainly not enough to check out much of Byrne’s solo material. So when he was added to Ottawa’s CityFolk, I was curious but I only decided that I would see him for sure in the handful of days leading up to his set. I had no idea what to expect but it definitely wasn’t what I witnessed that night. It was a complete performance. Art and pop joined as one. Minimalist stage set but one that changed the idea of concert, a new idea of space. He had an incredible 11 piece band backing him but even they bucked against the standard ideas for what concert performers should be, equal parts marching band and stage actors. All dressed in matching grey outfits, all movements choreographed, and none tied down by elaborate drum kits or cords of any kind. Byrne was both ringmaster and lead player, running through a catalogue that pulled from his Talking Heads days, solo work and collaborations, with, of course, special focus on his latest album, “American utopia”.
Point of reference song: I dance like this

David Byrne and Chris Giarmo
The killer percussion section
David Byrne, of course
Bobby Wooten, David Byrne, and Angie Swan
David Byrne and the band
Daniel Freedman, Mauro Refosco, Davi Vieira, Gustavo Di Dalva, Angie Swan, and Karl Mansfield
Chris Giarmo, Tendayi Kuumba, Angie Swan, and David Byrne
Mauro Refosco, Davi Vieira, Daniel Freedman, and others
David Byrne and Bobby Wooten
David Byrne close up

Happy new year everyone!

100 best covers: #82 Travis “Baby one more time”

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So here’s one that you can place firmly in the fun column.

I came across this particular cover during a brief period in 2001 where I was a bit obsessed with Scottish alt-pop band Travis and I was on the hunt for everything they’d recorded. Appearing as a B-side to the 1999 single “Turn”, it was recorded live and you can actually hear the laughter from the audience as they start to recognize the song. The band themselves can be heard snickering at the beginning, especially at the forced falsetto moments, but by the end, they are indeed performing it in earnest.

I also didn’t recognize the tune at first during my first sampling of it. It’s slowed some, performed stripped down to only an acoustic guitar with Fran Healy being joined, gang style, by the rest of the band on vocals. When it clicked, I still couldn’t believe what I was hearing and that’s what I think is so wonderful about it. It’s the surprise factor. A teen pop song performed by a pop band of a different sort and it works. I think so anyways.

As for the original, I’m pretty sure I don’t have to work too hard to jog your memory about it. Which is good because I can’t say I know much about Ms. Spears. However, I certainly have been overexposed to a bunch of her songs over the years and this one was particularly ubiquitous at the end of the nineties. I remember watching the video for the first time in disbelief. It was so obviously a ploy, a riff on the catholic school girl fantasy, but it worked. The song was huge, making her over from a former Mouseketeer to a pop star in the blink of an eye. Still, she likely got too big, too fast, given her tabloid ready lifestyle, and has had to forge more than one comeback over her career.

It’s probably pretty obvious by now which version I prefer. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a hate on for the Britney, nor her version of the song. It’s well written and has a great hook. Her style and sound is just not to my taste.

Do you have an opinion on the matter? I’d love to hear it.

The cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.

Best tunes of 1991: #14 Barenaked Ladies “If I had $1 000 000”

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On my birthday, just under a month ago, my wife Victoria suggested I put on a record. (She does that every once in a while.) And I think I surprised her by slipping on Barenaked Ladies’ debut album, “Gordon”. The surprise to her was likely that I liked the album enough to purchase it on vinyl. Admittedly, I haven’t always been a fan of a lot of their work, but as I explained to her, they were fresh and new when they first hit the scene. They quickly amassed a following for their hilarious and energetic live shows, where the improvised banter between the two principals, Steven Page and Ed Robertson, between songs or during, was a frequent occurrence. Now, it’s hard to capture that energy on a studio recording but they tried really hard on the debut, as well as showing the band’s propensity for crossing and blending genres. That album is now a classic and one that I know intimately, even its weakest links.

But before “Gordon” and its major label release, Barenaked Ladies were already being heavily played on Toronto’s alternative radio station, CFNY: demo tapes, self-released music, and shoddily recorded live clips, really, anything they could get their hands on. My own early favourite of their songs was a live recording of the band’s cover of Dean Friedman’s “(I’m in love with a) McDonald’s girl”. If you can find it, do so.

In 1991, Barenaked Ladies, then consisting of Page, Robertson, Tyler Stewart, and brothers Andy and Jim Creeggan, independently released their release, a cassette tape with a yellow cover and the band name printed on the front. “The yellow tape”, as it went on to be known, ended up become the first indie tape to reach platinum status in Canada. The tape consisted of five songs, four of which would be re-recorded for “Gordon” and become some of the band’s best-known songs, the fifth was a cover of Public Enemy’s “Fight the power”.

Today, if you started singing “If I had $1000000” anywhere in public in Canada, chances are that someone would join you in singing it. It was such a huge hit here, even before “Gordon” was released and the only version we had was the demo-style, stripped down version on the “Yellow tape”. Personally, when I first heard the version on “Gordon”, I didn’t like it, finding it too polished, but I can appreciate both now. The music isn’t complex on the original, acoustic guitar strumming, standup bass, and simple drumming, but the vocal interplay and harmonies between Page and Robertson really make the song. The concept behind it, too, is a simple one that most of us can identify with, that of dreaming what we would do if we suddenly came into a lot of money, though these days we might need more than $1000000 to really be considered rich. And beneath all the hilarious ideas of what they might buy – art (“a Picasso or a Garfunkel”, a green dress (“but not a real green dress, that’s cruel”) – there appears to be an understory of the singer pining for a girl for whom he may not feel quite good enough.

Universal, yes. Classic, indeed.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.