At first glimpse, the Whitney Hall stage at the Kentucky Center for the Arts in Louisville last night resembled a concert aftermath. Strewn about the floor were nearly a dozen musical instruments, the majority of them brass. It was as though the show had been suddenly interrupted with the players making a hasty exit.
But then, en masse, the troupe entered led by elder pop journeyman David Byrne and new generation songsmith/stylist Annie Clark (who still bills herself as St. Vincent, even though she was never introduced or referred to as such during the evening). The instruments were retrieved like temporarily forgotten toys and a flow of music followed that fused two askew pop intellects together in an unlikely alliance. The resulting music deemphasized the rhythm section in favor of an eight-member horn section that was equal parts carnival troupe, marching band and jazz-intensive rock orchestra.
At age 60, Byrne was the undeniable focal point even though he worked diligently to be a team player. When Clark was given the spotlight, he stood to the side and became part of the light choreography that kept the horn section in almost constant motion. All of that went out the window, though, when Byrne served up a Talking Heads oldie, which he did four times during the two hour performance. Then it was star time.
But the task at hand was promoting the 2012 collaborative album Byrne and Clark released last year, Love This Giant. The quirky pop dance structures of Who and the elegiac Outside of Space and Time, which opened and closed the set proper (and, similarly, bookend the album) played well to the still involving dynamics within Byrne’s singing. But so did less likely solo career picks, which included Lazy (a decade-old work with the electronica group X-Press 2 that, in this reworked version, sported a fresh coat of brassy cool) and Strange Overtones (yet another collaborative work cut initially with Brian Eno).
Clark’s material was often as intriguing as Byrne’s, even though the mighty brass orchestration tended to stifle her vocals at times. The best of her Love This Giant offerings was Lightning, where her light, animated singing worked in and around the punctuated, neo-soul bursts of the brass. But the large ensemble arrangements greatly enhanced such solo St. Vincent works as Cheerleader and especially The Party, to which Lexington native Kelly Pratt added striking harmonies on flugelhorn.
The latter was probably the closest thing the horn section offered as a solo. Instead, the team of eight worked with almost respiratory singularity, fortifying whatever bounce, groove or reflection the Love This Giant songs called for while turning the quartet of Talking Heads gems into true party pieces. The highlight of that lot was the show-closing encore of Road to Nowhere, where Clark joined the horn players in a snake line that weaved around a stationary Byrne to clap hands with audience patrons at the front of the stage. It was a suitably festive end to this inventive, cross-generational pop party.