Article by Roch Parisien
No matter the number of musically diverse and worthy projects he tackles over the years, the name DAVID BYRNE will forever be most closely associated with New York City art rock/new wave band Talking Heads.
As such, his is not the first name one reflexively expects to see gracing the marquee of a major international jazz festival. That being said, his latest collaboration with indie-rock singer-songwriter-guitarist ST. VINCENT (Annie Clark) under the moniker DAVID BYRNE & ST. VINCENT (their critically acclaimed album ‘Love This Giant’ was released last September) worked perfectly last night on the main stage of the Ottawa International Jazzfest, on so many levels.
The duo’s arch, unconventional songs and vocalizing, theatrical presentation and massive mostly-brass backing band (along with more standard-issue keyboards and drums, sax, trumpet, trombone, French horn, sousaphone, flugelhorn, clarinet, flute, ocarina and miscellaneous woodwinds were all name-checked) create a kind of improvisational jazz fusion for the here and now – like some Preservation Hall-meets-Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Marching Band in an alternate dimension, art-rock New Orleans.
At peak moments, the well-choreographed brass line would bob up and down like the pistons on a finely-tuned engine or sway in syncopation like some whirling dervish ceremony, a chorus line of car horns blaring out dire, ominous warnings. Byrne (“the spectre, the legend” said St. Vincent in her bandmate’s introduction), usually the stage focal point in any project, appeared to wear this collaboration comfortably, often receding into the background to deliver harmony or counterpoint vocals, awkward dance moves and/or general cheerleading.
Despite the focus on brass, the recently-blonde St. Vincent (now colour-coordinated, under the inventive light-show, with her silver-haired, cream-suited comrade) managed to unleash enough angular guitar runs to keep her fans primed. The set list focused, logically, on the contents of ‘Love This Giant’, with a handful of re-arranged Byrne (a buoyant “Like Humans Do”) and St. Vincent ( a sinister “Save Me From Myself”) solo tracks to spice the broth. No surprise that the most rapturous audience response was reserved for selections from the Talking Heads songbook – “This Must Be The Place”, “Wild Wild Life” and a closing “Burning Down The House”. Given the night’s unsettled weather, the ensemble tempted fate performing “Lightning” from ‘Love This Giant’, two thirds of way through their set.
Sure enough, a few songs later, bolts flashed across Confederation Park and the skies opened to a downpour, forcing a 30-minute retreat from the stage. The troupe gamely returned to an even gamer audience, largely refusing to abandon their posts, to fire off a last, intense barrage of tunes before the skies once again took charge. As the curtain closed on “Burning Down the House”, it seemed the appropriate moment for all concerned to evacuate the premises.
The Ottawa International Jazz Festival continues to July 1. Full lineup here.
Roch Parisien is an Ottawa-based, internationally recognized music journalist, consultant and archivist. Follow Roch at his Rocon Communications music chat page on Facebook.