Fans of David Byrne have always found the former Talking Heads front man to be a man of few words. When your music makes as engaging a musical statement as he made at his Saturday night show at Jannus Landing, there's no need to be chatty.
Byrne's 75-minute set showed that he still possesses the sharp, sardonic wit and creative brilliance that propelled the Talking Heads in the early 1980s and gives measured depth to his current work.
His arrival onstage in a Pepto-Bismol-pink, pseudo-fur jacket and pants to sing Once in a Lifetime revealed Byrne's quirky playfulness, and at least a desire to give the 900 or so, mostly 30-ish fans a bit of a show for their dollar.
Throughout the night, Byrne went through five changes of clothes, each one making its own distinctive character assertion, as he wound his way between well-worn Heads chestnuts and new material culled mainly from his latest album, Feelings.
Byrne put his performance art persona to work as he blended his intellectual geekiness with an aura of detached creepiness that served his eclectic material well. Dressed in a red kilt and a green Army T-shirt, Byrne and his fearless quartet delivered the bubbly, insurgent Miss America, inviting the audience to mambo to its throbbing Latin beat as the singer writhed around a post and traded harmonies with singer Christina Wheeler.
Although Byrne has often sought to distance himself from his former band with his solo forays, he served his longtime public well with memorable versions of several Talking Heads songs. His stunningly soulful delivery of Take Me to the River benefited from the thoughtful backing of his disciplined band. And Road to Nowhere waxed nostalgic as Byrne allowed his audience to revisit its airy melody.
Although obviously not well-known to many fans, Byrne's newer songs were a laboratory for musical ideas and provided a steady dance groove throughout the night. The darkly poetic Daddy Go Down, with its Appalachian-sounding fiddle drone, twisted under Byrne's yodellike vocal. The ferocious polyrhythmic beat of Dancing on Vaseline put Byrne and company in overdrive as fans danced and jumped.
Byrne made a memorable departure when he reappeared for his encore, Psycho Killer, dressed in a body stocking painted with the anatomical likeness of his bones and muscles. His skinless appearance lent an extra measure of spookiness to the signature song, especially when he crawled up the railing overlooking the courtyard and vanished in the song's fading refrain.