Sunday, July 29, 2018

Once in a Lifetime

I bought my ticket to see David Byrne a lifetime ago.

And by lifetime, I mean February 11, which might as well be the same thing considering the seismic shifts in my world since that long ago day.

I can't tell one from the other
Did I find you or you find me?
There was a time, before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I'll be, where I'll be

When tickets for his May show at the Anthem in D.C. went on sale, I'd passed on going because of the venue. But when a Merriweather Post Pavilion date was added, I jumped on board despite the steep price (for me anyway).

MPP was the site of my second-ever concert - Carol King - back in 1972 or '73 and the thought of seeing as iconic a performer as David Byrne at Merriweather on a July night was irresistible, even if I did have to cross state lines and go solo.

As fate would have it, I didn't go by myself. As fortune would have it, I picked the right show to return to Merriweather for. No doubt about it, 2018 has been my year.

I'm just an animal looking for a home
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I'm dead

First of all, the evening weather was glorious, not too hot or humid. We arrived when the gates opened and had our choice of great views. Then there was the benefit of the show not being sold out. Our chairs may have skirted the blanket laid down by a happy hippie-ish couple to our right named Tom and Karen, but everyone had breathing room.

Not necessarily a bad thing when an occasional whiff of weed wafted by.

It wasn't even dark when English poet and singer Benjamin Clementine took a seat on a stool in front of a piano and began singing and playing in an intense way that was poetic, moving and quite beautiful. Nina Simone came to mind. I sensed immediately that he'd been chosen by Byrne to open, no doubt for his incredibly distinctive voice and talent.

Let's just say it was an impressive start to a stunning evening of music, choreography and theater.

The less we say about it, the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground, head in the sky
It's okay, I know nothing's wrong

Byrne, not to mention that magnificent head of hair he's got, began the show alone onstage, sitting at a table and holding a model of a brain while singing "Here" off the new album "American Utopia," which all ticket buyers were sent as part of the deal. Right off the bat, it seemed like an appropriately intellectual and musical way to set the tone for a man known for his art school roots.

But where it got truly wondrous was when a dozen people, musicians and singers all in identical suits, joined him, each of the musicians with their instrument strapped to their body like a drum line or marching band. It was an incredible amount of sound they produced while a duo sang backup and danced the most difficult moves.

We drift in and out
Oh! Sing into my mouth
Out of all those kinds of peoiple
You got a face with a view

Every song was fully choreographed, with Byrne dancing along with his cadre of musicians and singers (loads of drums and percussion, natch, but it was the strapped-on keyboard that was the most impressive when being played), whether it was one of the kickass new songs like "Everybody's Coming to My House" or one of the Talking Heads songs that set the crowd off into a frenzy.

Where he made time stand still for me was in playing "Naive Melody," a song I hadn't dared to hope I'd hear and one that sounded transcendent sung into the soft night air. It was while he was singing "Burning Down the House" and the middle-aged crowd was losing their minds that the all but full moon finally rose above the tree line like a benediction on the show below.

Oh! I got plenty of time
Oh! You got light in your eyes

When they did "Blind," Byrne played guitar while a bright light focused on the performers caused shadows to be cast against the background. Byrne's shadow looked enormous compared to the others, reaching almost to the stage's rafters, in the same way that his giant suit used to make him stand out back in the Talking Heads days. It was like having a Balinese shadow puppet show, except with real people.

The final encore was Janelle Monae's "Hell You Talmbout," with drums backing the names of black people killed by police and the admonishment, "Say his name." It was incredibly powerful way to end the evening.

I come home
She lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place

I don't recall how I felt after Carol King finished performing, but I know that I won't soon forget how I felt when Bryne and company took their final bow. Standing under that bright moon with my favorite person next to me, I knew we'd seen something wondrous, something that would have been worth a 3 1/2 hour drive alone for.

Lucky me, I got to share it with someone who was not only as wowed as I was, but who's willing to make it up as we go along. In fact, cruising home on Route 301, that's how we ended up at Captain Billy's Crabhouse on the Potomac having a late waterside lunch. Crabs, shrimp and hushpuppies (not to mention Homes' favorite crab and vegetable soup) go down mighty easy watching sea birds vie for pole perches and reveling in the passing of time together.

And you're standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money, always for love
Cover up and say goodnight, say goodnight

This is where I'll be. Where I'll be happily.

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