Byrne continues to redefine rock

— Few musicians possess the ability to have Wookie-lookalikes and bespectacled old men in high-water pants dancing side by side in the aisles. David Byrne, though, displays a limitless imagination and unparalleled work ethic that few musicians could even dream of having.

On Wednesday night, the creative force behind Talking Heads tore through a two-hour set at The Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Mo., as if he were Hurricane Ivan. At 52, Byrne parades the same fire he showed in "Stop Making Sense," the Heads' epic concert film.

The skinny, silver-haired Scot treated the crowd to classics like "NaÃive Melody," "Psycho Killer" and "Life During Wartime." Dressed in a brown uniform that matched his fellow band members', he jumped, ran in place and spastically danced his way all over the stage. When he picked up his guitar or microphone, he showed no signs of aging after almost 30 years of touring. However, if his energy and the purity of his voice have not changed, the sound of Byrne's new material was a far cry from his rock music of the late '70s and early '80s.

Accompanied by a three-piece rhythm section and The Tosca Strings, a six-piece band from Austin, Texas, Byrne showcased cuts from his new album, "Grown Backwards." The record favors a mature sound, with influences from samba to classical to opera. Of the concert's 21 percussion-and-string-laden songs, five were new and four were off 2001's "Look into the Eyeball." He included a cover of "One Rainy Wish" by Jimi Hendrix, which substituted heavy strings for electric guitar.

The show had more variety than Liberace's closet.

The enthusiastic crowd seemed almost as appreciative to hear the new material as the Heads tunes. Byrne received extended standing ovations whenever he wasn't talking or playing. After each, the consummate New Yorker smiled and looked at his band as if he were pleasantly surprised by the passionate Midwestern crowd.

The hyper-busy artist rarely finds time to stop through the central U.S. He tends to tour internationally and splits his time with some of his other hobbies: exhibiting his artwork in museums, directing documentaries, composing musical scores and recording a track for an album to benefit the MoveOn PAC.

The way Byrne is going now, he could tour until he's hooked up to an oxygen tank. He'll probably be back soon with another album that redefines what we think of as rock 'n' roll.


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