A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see David Byrne live in concert. It was purported to be a celebration of the work he did with Brian Eno, famed producer and musical renegade, encompassing Eno’s production on classic Talking Heads albums as well as their collaborations like My Life In The Bush of Ghosts and a new, currently digital-only release Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. The show was composed of Byrne, a backing band, a trio of backup singers and a trio of interpretive dancers, and while that sounds like a bad, pretentious idea the whole thing came off very entertaining and ended up being a fine night of live music.
Another big plus was the lack of squirrels in the road. Come on, if you go to see bands with an extensive and memorable back-catalog you know about the squirrels. A pace is building, the classics are rolling out and the audience is having a grand old time, then suddenly the performer announces, “We’d like to play something from our new album” and suddenly it’s all screeching brakes and momentum sliding to a halt. Damn squirrels, they’ll do it every time.
That’s what’s so great about the new collaboration: nary a squirrel to be found. All the songs, even if they’re not immediate attention-getters, are very good and surprisingly song-like. I hesitate to use the word ‘conventional’ because it would tend to paint Everything That Happens… as by-the-numbers, which it definitely isn’t. These songs sat side by side with tunes like “I, Zimbra,” “Once In A Lifetime,” and even “Help Me Somebody” and never interrupted the flow, never incurred massive pee-breaks and beer raids. The album is an album, and not an excuse to tour based around weak product, thank God.
The story goes like this: Byrne found himself in the company of Eno unexpectedly, as both hadn’t co-created in awhile. Eno, over the years, made his bones by becoming an ambient artist as well as the big-time producer of several classic albums, including U2’s The Joshua Tree. Byrne mixed his sound with massive multiculturalism and founded the Luaka Bop label. Now here they were in the company of each other and the inevitable happened: one asked the other if they were up for doing something. The result? Eno sent Byrne some instrumentals he had worked up, yet these frames were distinctively song-based.
This wasn’t an esoteric art project or sound collage. Byrne wrote the lyrics, added guitar and, on the other side, came up with some of the best tunes he’s done in years. Perhaps it was the need to work in the preset groundrules, maybe it was that he felt like just writing some very cohesive song-songs. Either way, it worked quite well.
“Everything That Happens” is gorgeous stuff, plaintive and anthemic at the same time. The freebie single “Strange Overtones” could be a hit, it feels like a hit. I’d love it if it eventually did get to that degree of recognition, yet I doubt it. There is something to it that I don’t hear on pop radio, not even on Eno’s recent work on Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, but is all over this album. Can you tell I’m impressed?
And that, as they say, is it. Version 2008 of Dw. Dunphy On… is en route to the archive, as your hard-working Popdose columnists prepare to take a well-deserved holiday nap, but I wanted to take the time to get some things said. The first, and far and away most important, is my round of applause for you, the readers of my column and Popdose in general. You may not have agreed with some of my opinions over this past year. Lord knows I got a little political here and there, and that is a lot like begging for a fight, but I think you’ll agree that there are far worse forums to hash it out in. Enjoy your freedom of speech, folks, because it’s a fine thing and easily lost if you don’t use it wisely and frequently.
The second thank-you goes to Popdose in general. It’s a collective of writers, artists, free-thinkers and very funny people that I’ve had the great pleasure to work with. Sorry if I brought the property value down a bit over the past 12 months, but it’s an honor to see my humble ramblings and rants stand beside these folks, most of whom came from their own spheres of blogdom, most of whom had many more credentials in the field of online-infotainment than I, and most of whom I would owe money to if we all worked in a conventional office setting. I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today, Jeff…
We go into the holiday hiatus with some neat, festive and (occasionally) harrowing surprises for you, so even though our regular columns take HannuChristZaa off, you’ll still have plenty to check out. Do stop by. Catch up on old reading in our archives — it’s worth the time. And of course, like a phoenix, rising gloriously from the ashes in the new year and smelling a little like one too many Jagermeister shots but coping with the headache, Popdose will return bigger and better and ready to conquer the web-world of 2009.
I’ll be here too, your humble scribe. See, if I might speak for myself, I have something to prove not only with this column but with this life (cue the Lifetime Channel theme music.) We’ve seen a lot of famous, creative, notorious and altogether wonderful people leave our green bit of ground this year. The comment we bandied about behind the scenes was to the effect of, “If you didn’t drop dead in 2008, you’re just not that cool.” So your life may or may not be short. We don’t know. I do know that even a long life moves by awfully fast, so if you’ve got stuff to do, do your stuff. Write your stories down now, don’t lock them back with the mental grocery list. Think you could do something with a guitar? Go get a guitar and try. Hock shops are jammed with them. Got some fences that need mending or love that has lost it’s shine due to neglect? You’ve known what to do all along but were too distracted to do it, or too intimidated by the negative outcome. Guess what? There’s no more negative an outcome than a life ended, and since we haven’t a clue what our personal expiration dates are, make sure you’re living up to your potential.
Be responsible. Don’t be one of these “Live For Today!” jerks that use it as an excuse to do more harm to themselves than good. Just know that peace begins when we’re too preoccupied with creating stuff and fomenting greatness to go kicking a stranger’s ass for no reason. I’ll be busy writing and recording new music, designing a book that the new music will be a part of, looking to the future a little, praying I get a chance to prove to that special someone that I can be “the guy”, and praying that I will be “the guy” should the door open to me. And I’ll be, like all of you, eagerly awaiting my holiday Popdose treats. I know what some of them are already and, let me tell you, you’re gonna plotz!
Cheers, mates! Until we screed again!
And here’s your holiday gift from me to you, a big ol’ digital Mixtape of goodness!