Focusing on David Byrne is like focusing on a chameleon; right before your eyes, for the decades we've enjoyed his work, he transforms and transmutates into varying forms. It's been his MO from the beginning. He crackles sharp wit, defuses pomp and bombast with a sneering cynicism that is usually on track and rarely lets up. On "Ride, Rise, Roar" we get to experience a nice snapshot of one of those transitional moments. The venerable David Byrne, dressed sharply in a collared white shirt, white slacks and white belt and tie to match his fertile shock of silvery hair, begins the concert film “Ride, Rise, Roar” in an odd crab dance. Of course, in Byrne’s world, “odd” is simply a matter of perspective. And that's really what makes it so much fun.
Kicking off the festivities, the quirky, visionary 59 year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, backed by a similarly attired ensemble and a small cadre of gyrating, leapfrogging dancers, appeals to his audience with a multi-disciplined take on his well-known Talking Heads anthem, “Once in a Lifetime.” These songs have become, in many ways, timeless. Recharged with new blood in the way of musicians and arrangements that let the songs shine in different ways, the live film rewards with it's familiarity that's... not entirely familiar, thanks to the creative re-working.
Flash to artsy black and white chat session, and we peek at private rehearsals and enjoy a behind-the-scenes view to the creative process behind Byrne’s stage show. Byrne has never been a man whose vision can be easily explained, though he attempts it in some of the candid moments where he devulges the inner-workings of his magic. “I thought it’d be nice to do something unexpected that also makes it a little bit more of a show,” says Byrne in his opening interview, “that adds a kind of a visual element.”
As he explains, Byrne invited choreographers normally not associated with pop acts to put together a troupe of artistic and earnest, if unglamorous, dancers for this concert tour. Think of it as adding flair and nuance that often his densely thick songs may conjure. In “Life Is Long,“ the limber performers uncoil and flail about in office chairs, which if attributed to any rock artist but David Byrne, might seem self-conscious and hammy. Perhaps extensions of themes already contained in the music, other times appearing as added art value or additonal storyline possibility. The results are surprisingly refreshing, however, as it becomes clear the inventive dancers are as integral to the whole sum of the program as the band or Byrne’s hit songs.
From the new wave gospel of “Road To Nowhere” to the excitable palpitation of “The Great Curve” and “Air,” Byrne and company takes its audience through a musical tour of his expansive trove of celebrated compositions. Like his opening, he goes for the jugular when bringing things to a close. When “Burning Down the House” rolls around, the band performs the hit song with verve and panache. Naturally, they also happen to be outfitted in little white tutus for visual effect. After all, this is David Byrne we’re talking about, and what would a David Byrne show be without a curveball? Or several?