David Byrne On Stephen Colbert, Bad Reviews

Last night David Byrne went on The Colbert Report. During the jokey Q&A he got insightful, where other people laugh, trying to answer Stephen C’s questions as carefully as possible even when they were meant as a punchline (see, for instance, the analysis of “Once In A Lifetime”). The chat was followed by a performance of Everything That Happens Will Happen Today’s “Life Is Long.” You can see both portions at Videogum. You’ll note Byrne brought the all-white outfits and interpretive dancers of his Songs of David Byrne And Brian Eno Tour, which received a less than stellar review by Jon Pareles in yesterday’s Times. Byrne sounds great, but after watching even a couple minutes of the hammy dancers, I can’t say I’m entirely unsympathetic to Pareles’ thoughts on the night. Byrne, who admits he hasn’t read the review, has an interesting response to it at his blog:

Tipped off to the article by “C” before he sees it, Byrne brings up the notion of music snobs “who like to remind everyone that they heard so and so back when they were really good” then specifies that this “is the same reviewer who leveled charges of ‘cultural imperialism’ against Bush Of Ghosts in his Rolling Stone review back in the early 80’s.” He decides he won’t read the article because “it seemed to be one of those reviews that comes from some psychological issues the writer has” and therefore wouldn’t be constructive. While parts of Parales’s old RS review are harsh (actually, it can get heavy handed), it isn’t as harsh as Byrne remembers it. Pareles, who gave Bush 3.5 stars, ends the review with a provocative question:

When they don’t succumb to exoticism or cuteness–luckily, that’s most of the album–the Byrne-Eno backups are fascinating, complementing the sources without absorbing them. David Byrne and Brian Eno pile up riffs and cross-rhythms to build drama, yet they keep the cuts uncluttered and mysterious. As sheer sound (ignoring content and context), many of the selections are heady and memorable. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts does make me wonder, though, how Byrne or Eno would react if Dunya Yusin spliced together a little of “Animals” and a bit of “The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch,” then added her idea of a suitable backup. Does this global village have two-way traffic?

It’s clear he was building up to this central idea. The bigger question: Has anyone answered it sufficiently? All this to say: The Byrne vs. Pareles standoff is fascinating. You can read Byrne’s take at his blog. (Since RS came up, it should be noted they loved the show.)