Weird collaborations happen all the time in music. Some of them are incredible, like Queen and David Bowie with “Under Pressure” or just wrong, like Rihanna and Chris Brown post break-up with “Birthday Cake.” (Really Rih-Rih, I expected so much more from you.) While not all collaborations work, they still can produce interesting music that expands the genres of the musicians.
I was ecstatic when I found out that two of my favorite artists, seminal New Waver David Byrne and newcomer guitarist Annie Clark, (aka St. Vincent) were joining forces. I knew this combination had the possibility to be the next “Under Pressure” or to be chaos. Byrne and Clark are two very distinct and very different artists. Byrne rose to fame during the 1970s with his group The Talking Heads. The band experimented with a variety of genres ranging from New Wave, punk Americana,funk, and world music. They gained some commercial success and are considered an influential group in the history of rock and roll.
Clark, on the other hand, has only become famous over the past few years. She creates indie/art pop rock under the pseudo name St. Vincent. She is most known for her unique guitar playing that combines robotic progressive rock riffs with almost robotic melodies. She released her first album, “Marry Me,” in 2007 and has released two more since then.
While she has gained some commercial success, she is not nearly as well known as Byrne.
This was why I was excited, but surprised about the Byrne and Clark collaboration. I imagined that Byrne would play the role of the “old rock mentor” to the much younger Clark. When reading interviews with Byrne and Clark prior to their album’s release, it appeared that this was truly a collaborative process between Byrne and Clark. Byrne described their relationship as similar to that of the beauty and the beast with Byrne being the beauty and Clark being the beast.
Their collaboration, an album entitled “Love This Giant,” finally came out in September. While there were a couple strong songs, the album as a whole was a disappointment. Both artists are known for their theatricality in both their music and stage performances. This usually creates music that is exciting and tells a story,though this magic is not there in “Love This Giant.” The songs feel almost flat and lackluster. The music is a mush of Bryne’s and Clark’s musical genres and nothing stands out.
Almost every song on the album also features an eight-piece brass band, which creates a lot of tension in the music. While this is definitely an interesting sound, it seems repetitive when it is featured on every song.
Despite my feelings towards the album, I was excited to see Byrne and Clark perform, just to be able to say that I saw David Byrne and Annie Clark in concert, together. The show took place at the perfect venue− the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland. I knew that the beautiful old building would be a great place to hear them play.
Even though I wasn't crazy about “Love This Giant,” I really enjoyed Byrne’s and Clark’s performance. The eight-piece brass band that performed on the album toured with them. While they were performing, the brass band members would travel around the stage in synchronized dances - sometimes in circles around Byrne and Clark and other times approaching them slowly, like carnivorous animals, from both sides of the stage. When performed live, the brass sounded fuller and gave life to the music instead of taking away from it.
One of the best parts of the show was getting to see Byrne and Clark perform each other’s songs. They did Talking Head classics such as “Burning Down the House”and “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” and the St. Vincent songs “Cheerleader” and “Surgeon.”
At about halfway through the show, Clark admitted she never imagined she would ever play with Byrne. She told the story of how she first heard his music when she was only a young child and he was already a successful musician. It just goes to show you that any musical collaboration can happen, some just shouldn’t.