June 17, 2013


David Byrne & St. Vincent Bring Bonnaroo to a Beautiful, Bizarre End

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

As the stifling Tennessee heat gave way to light but persistent rain on Sunday evening, Bonnaroo 2013 came to an end. Tom Petty had the honor of closing the fest and A$AP Rocky led the day's wildest set, but a razor-sharp set from David Byrne & St. Vincent was the day's most fascinating show.

Anyone who's heard the Love This Giant album knows how effortless and invigorating their collaborations are. Happily, those songs sound even more robust in the live concert setting. The brass backing band—which flawlessly executed album highlights like "Who," "Weekend in the Dust" and a mixture of their separate material—gave their arty co-compositions a welcome element of understated New Orleans funk.

But as organic as their collabos are on record, you don't fully appreciate the odd beauty of these two working together until you observe them on the same stage. Seemingly drawing on her musical partner's fondness for oddball onstage choreography (she told us Byrne helps her feel "fearless"), St. Vincent moved about the stage at Bonnaroo in a way that would have smacked of arty pretension if she hadn't made it look to strangely natural. When it was her turn to sing on their duet tracks, St. Vincent would take baby steps up to the mic as if her ankles were chained together by invisible shackles. And when her part was over, she'd shuffle backwards quickly and quietly with almost imperceptible foot movements.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

She might have resembled a cuckoo bird—only approaching you when it's time to chime out and then slinking back afterward—if it hadn't been for her '80s themed outfit. Rocking a silvery mall rat miniskirt and teasing out her recently-dyed blonde hair to Fran Drescher proportions, St. Vincent's appearance shouted out from the stage as audibly as Byrne's nervously energetic voice.

While she borrowed his quirky stage movements, he seemed to feed off her enthusiasm for vintage Talking Heads songs he's sung hundreds of times. Their live version of "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" was heart-breaking, gorgeous and still earnest after all these years. And when he did "Wild Wild Life," each member of the brass backing band had a turn to sing lead on the song regardless of their vocal ability, which gave the overplayed hit a delightful off-the-cuff feeling.

Following a crowd-pleasing romp through "Burning Down the House," St. Vincent came back out for the encore to (literally) waltz through her solo track "The Party" after which Byrne returned for a rousing version of Talking Heads' "Road to Nowhere." That 1985 hit—with its sage optimism and sing-along chorus—was a perfect way to help bring Bonnaroo to a close on its last day.