I wasn’t sure what to expect when I agreed to check out the world premiere of David Byrne’s Contemporary Color, part of Luminato Festival 2015. All I really knew was that the kooky, white-haired music luminary would be putting on an artsy-fartsy-sounding show with some of his friends like St. Vincent (who the former Talking Head collaborated with on the supoib Love This Giant), Zola Jesus, Dev Hynes, Canadian songbird Nelly Furtado, and King Ad-Rock of Beastie Boy fame.
What I ended up getting was a kaleidoscopic explosion of pomp, circumstance and pageantry in the form of perpetually spinning military paraphernalia like flags, rifles and sabres set to live music. I was also seriously schooled on the history, passion, dedication, and athletic talent that goes into Color Guard, the nearly 80-year old art form that has its own world championships. While you’ve probably seen the odd viral video of US college marching bands rocking out to Rage Against the Machine, apparently no one had ever thought of matching this wildly vibrant pageant with music that isn’t pre-recorded and meticulously practiced to hundreds of times. Leave it to Mr. Psycho Killer himself; after all, he did write a number one song about Homer Simpson’s hatred for his neighbour Ned Flanders, remember?
OK, that joke doesn’t make much sense in the context of this review, but what DID make sense was Byrne’s acumen in synchronizing the right artist on the elevated Air Canada Centre stage with the right generation-spanning group tumbling and twirling on the tarp-covered floor below, incorporating scaffolding, transitional walls, benches, and even quasi-crowd surfing in addition to customary Color Guard fare. The performances were so overpoweringly mesmerizing that the original compositions being played by the 13-piece backing band became secondary, even if we were witnessing things such as Adam Horovitz with a guitar in hand for the first time in six years. (I’m a lifelong Beasties fan still in mourning over MCA, sue me!)
With all apologies for the terrible pun, colo(u)r me impressed, Mr. Byrne. In a world where everything seems to have been done to death, you’ve given us a (ahem!) “Once in a Lifetime” experience worthy of your eccentric nature, creative reputation, and high standing in the indie-minded community.
The patriotic Canuck in mine however feels there was a missed opportunity by not reaching out to worldly hip-hopper K’naan, or at least his anthemic “Wavin’ Flag” somehow. I guess the elder statesman of alt-rock made up for it by getting two Canadian troupes to participate, including the one he supported musically, Quebec’s Les Éclipses.
All I know now is I’d go see something like this again, much more than anything the upcoming Pan Am Games has to offer…other than the free PANAMANIA concerts, of course. Forget Cirque Du Buffet, #ContemporaryColor should be the entertainment for the opening ceremonies July 10th. Brooklyn hipsters, you’re in for a treat – Look up from your iPhones and warm lagers and go see David Byrne and Company at Barclays Center June 27th & 28th!