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David Byrne and St. Vincent launch collaborative tour at the State

Credit: Photos by Ben Clark

For the opening night of their first tour together, David Byrne and Annie Clark (who performs as St. Vincent) were quick to offer up a series of disclaimers, with Byrne saying he hoped they didn’t make too many mistakes and Clark joking, “I have my toes crossed.” 

But those apologetic statements proved entirely unnecessary as the hour-and-45-minute set progressed. Byrne and Clark’s performance, amplified by a continuously rearranging and rigorously rehearsed 10-piece backing band, was simply stunning.

The evening began boldly with “Who,” the pair’s first single and the opening track off their new album, Love This Giant, and was followed up quickly with another new track, “Weekend in the Dust,” before transitioning into some of the artists’ respective solo material. 

Byrne hovered around the left of the stage and sang through a headset, while Vincent remained mostly stationary in front of a mic stand and array of guitar pedals. The eight brass-wielding musicians in the backing band, meanwhile, morphed into different configurations behind them, with Byrne occasionally joining a slow parade or migration across the stage. The choreography — which was much more subtle than what that word typically implies, with the emphasis more on changing the musicians’ placement on stage than anything resembling dancing — was conceived by Annie-B Parson of Big Dance Theater, and it created a feeling of continuous motion and further helped convey the distinctive aesthetic of Byrne and Clark’s collaboration.

At one point, to emphasize the stripped-down nature of St. Vincent’s solo song “Cheerleader,” the entire band — including Byrne — laid down on stage and played their instruments from the floor. For the jarring, syncopated “I Am an Ape,” the band swirled in a circle around Byrne and Clark as they sang. And by the time they reached the triumphant Talking Heads song “Road to Nowhere” in the finale, the horn players were jubilantly zigzagging across the stage like a New Orleans brass band.

The mix of songs from Love This Giant, St. Vincent’s material, and Byrne’s work as both a solo artist and with Talking Heads provided a little something for every kind of fan in attendance. And judging by the mixed-bag crowd, the show drew equally from Byrne’s and Clark’s fan bases, with few seeming to be familiar with them both. The Talking Heads songs (“This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” “Road to Nowhere,” and “Burning Down the House”) and St. Vincent’s singles (“Marrow,” “Cruel”) received the biggest cheers from the crowd. But many of the pair’s new songs were also met with hearty applause and appreciation, so much so that the audience remained on their feet throughout the event.

And despite the rigorously rehearsed nature of the show, they were also sure to leave some space to address the crowd, with both Byrne and Clark praising the Twin Cities (“You’re a wonderful city and the perfect place to start this tour,” Clark gushed). Byrne also paused to explain the backstory of new song “I Should Watch TV,” which he said he wrote about first moving to New York City and finding himself playing in a band at night and watching a lot of television during the day.

As a St. Vincent fan, I could have used a little bit more of Clark’s guitar in the mix, but such a heavy emphasis on complex, polyrhythmic brass arrangements did help to weave all of the songs together into a cohesive statement and separate it from a typical St. Vincent show (or David Byrne show, for that matter). The entire performance was executed so masterfully that I couldn’t help but wonder whether Byrne and Clark’s creative collaboration would blossom beyond a one-off album and tour; at times it felt like we were witnessing the birth of a significant and enduring musical partnership.

David Byrne and St. Vincent set list:

Weekend in the Dust
Save Me From What I Want (St. Vincent)
Strange Overtones (Byrne)
I Am an Ape
Marrow (St. Vincent)
This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) (Talking Heads)
The Forest Awakes
Like Humans Do (Byrne)
Cheerleader (St. Vincent)
Lazy (Byrne)
I Should Watch TV
Northern Lights (St. Vincent)
The One Who Broke Your Heart
Outside of Space and Time

Encore 1:
Cruel (St. Vincent)
Burning Down the House (Talking Heads)

Encore 2:
The Party (St. Vincent)
Road to Nowhere (Talking Heads)