David Byrne at Carnegie Hall

Christine Kearney at Reuters:

Carnegiejanbyrne200Independent rock icon David Byrne took the stage at Carnegie Hall on Saturday to unveil for a U.S. audience a collection of songs about the life of former Philippines first lady Imelda Marcos — minus the shoes.

Byrne, 54, best known as the frontman for the influential off-beat 1980s pop band “Talking Heads,” performed the sold-out show “Here Lies Love,” accompanied on stage by two singers, a rock band and a small orchestra.

“This is the place to audition a lot of new material,” Byrne told the audience at the start of the show, thanking Carnegie Hall for letting him perform the 23 songs he wrote in collaboration with British Deejay Norman Cook, known as Fatboy Slim.

The project, first performed as a song cycle with multimedia elements in Australia last year, is still in development. Byrne recently described it as more akin to a disco opera than a possible Broadway musical.

In skinny black pants and a white shirt, Byrne informed the audience between songs about Imelda Marcos and her life before meeting her husband Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippines president from 1965 until he fled to Hawaii in 1986.

“This is not artistic licence, this is reportage,” Byrne told a laughing audience as the story moved to Marcos’ extravagant visits to New York, where she frequented the famed nightclub “Studio 54.”

More here.

My wife Margit and I were at the Carnegie Hall concert earlier tonight, along with with Robin Varghese and Maeve Adams, and Byrne and Co. were just absolutely brilliant. The show tonight was the third in the four-part Perspectives series that Byrne was invited to direct by the Carnegie people, and it was a song-cycle called Here Lies Love with the music and lyrics by Byrne (along with some musical contribution by Fatboy Slim). The songs in Here Lies Love follow the life and loves of Imelda Marcos, the former first-lady of the Phillipines (you know, 3,000 pairs of shoes and all that), and the woman who took care of Imelda since she was a young child, Estrella.

The parts of Imelda and Estrella were sung by Joan Almedilla and Ganda Suthivarakom, both beautiful singers of immensely deep talent. Byrne played several different guitars and also sang all different parts (including some of the women’s roles–but in his normal male register!) in a voice of truly awesome range and control. He also introduced each of the twenty songs making up the cycle with historical background, often with bits of wry commentary. This gave the musical evening an almost folksy story-telling feel (but the music was not folksy, it was ineluctably dancy, making it impossible for me to complain about the guy behind me tapping my seat with his foot, as I irresistably found myself doing the same to the guy in the seat in front of me). Did you know that Benito Aquino, the opposition leader who was killed by Ferdinand Marcos (and who’s wife, Corazon would eventually become President of the Phillipines) was Imelda’s first love? I didn’t. And the seemingly self-evident notion of the Marcos couple as the ultimate symbol of a greedy third-world family empowered and enabled by imperial US policies was nicely complicated by Byrne’s stories and song. About half-way into the concert, the five-man band was joined by a 15-person orchestra, adding a lovely symphonic richness to the later songs. As the climax, Byrne sang a reprise of the title song they had begun with, Here Lies Love, with the very moving and very impressive skill and strength of the master-singer that he has become. Byrne also deserves credit for not shying away from pointing out the “resonance”  that the song “Order 1081” (the numerical identifier of the legal code that established martial law in the Phillipines, ostensibly to create greater security against terrorism) might have for us today. (It was my second most favorite song, after Here Lies Love itself.)

Abbas_and_mauroBesides the singers, by far the most impressive performance, musically speaking, of the evening was (yes, I may be biased, but I really don’t think I am in this case!) by our old friend Mauro Refosco, whom I believe to be one of the most gifted percussionists alive today. (We have to get Zakir Hussain and Mauro together, so anyone out there who knows Zakir, write to me!) Mauro, who has been on tour with Byrne recently, is the sort of guy who I am sure could play a danceable beat on coconuts and palm fronds if you happened to be deserted with him on some island. Imagine what he can do when he is given what Maeve aptly described as a “kitchen of instruments.” Taking this culinary metaphor further, someone in our party (Robin? Margit?) said he looked at one point like a “mad cook” on a mission, hammering away at his incredibly varied instruments. In any case, it was he who gave the songs a powerful comtemporary rhythm.  [Yes, that’s Mauro and me in the photo, at the afterparty.]

Congratulations to David and Mauro and everybody else involved in this beautiful project!