Great as they are, Joey Ramone and Debbie Harry’s legacies can’t hold a candle to David Byrne’s. It’s hard to imagine another of CBGB’s early mainstays receiving the same type of tribute the Talking Heads frontman received Monday night at Carnegie Hall, as part of Michael Dorf’s 11th annual concert to benefit music education programs.
Byrne’s innovative catalog extends from paranoid punk to skittering Latin beats to earnest balladry—a diversity reflected by the show’s stacked lineup, which ranged from Alexis Krauss (Sleigh Bells) to Billy F. Gibbons (ZZ Top) to the Roots. “We’re doing this for King David this evening,” CeeLo Green remarked before launching into a bonkers rendition of “Take Me To The River.”
The two-and-a-half hour show had a slew of highlights, but it took a while to find its groove. Organizer Michael Dorf first announced that the event—whose previous honorees include Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Prince—raised more than $100,000 this year. Little Kids Rock, one of the music programs for underprivileged youth who the money will benefit, kicked off the music with an ironic cover of “Stay Up Late.” Cibo Matto, aided by Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, the delivered a chic, theatrical performance of “I Zimbra” that seemed to bode well for the rest of the program.
But the performances stagnated from there, bogged down by lackluster arrangements and poor mixing. Brooklyn ensemble Antibalas was certainly the right choice for a house band, but on typically frenetic “Crosseyed and Painless” they sounded subdued—a word few would use to describe Byrne’s music. Jazz savant Esperanza Spalding’s gorgeous voice couldn’t save an elevator-music version of “Road to Nowhere,” and singer-guitarist Peter Molinari altered the melody to “Heaven” so completely that it squandered the goodwill some may have afforded him as the night’s only solo performance.
Despite those speedbumps, Krauss’ visceral rendition of “Life During Wartime” and Gibbons’ trucker-rock reinvention of Eno-funk jam “Houses In Motion” kept the show’s first half alive and provided a bridge to an epic final sequence. Joseph Arthur used a loop pedal and painted in real-time on a canvas to give sentimental “This Must Be The Place” new life, while Irish singer Glen Hansard delivered a passionate, fiddle-laden take on “Girlfriend Is Better.” The Roots and Questlove brought expected boom-bap to “Born Under Punches,” accompanied by stunning vocals from Donn T.
O.A.R. and Santigold both gave vibrant performances—of “And She Was” and “Burning Down the House,” respectively—but Sharon Jones and CeeLo Green provided the evening with some soul, as well as its best moments. Adorned in a silver-sequined dress, Jones got the sedentary crowd to their feet for the first time with a version of “Psycho Killer” that turned the tightly wound Talking Heads jam into a full-blown Motown masterpiece. And it was a good thing Green was the show’s last scheduled guest, because no one could’ve topped his vocal work on the Al Green-penned “Take Me to the River.”
Green’s voice had barely died out before a barrage of drums filled the hall. Byrne himself led a marching band down an aisle and onto stage, thanking the audience and performers (“I saw my life flash before me”) then closing out the show with a jubilant, brassy cover of “Uptown Funk” that underscored just how versatile and creative he is. CBGB may have given us “Blitzkrieg Bop” and Patti Smith, but David Byrne is the gift that keeps on giving.
Little Kids Rock — “Stay Up Late”
Cibo Matto with Nels Cline (Wilco) — “I Zimbra”
Anitbalas — “Crosseyed and Painless”
Esperanza Spalding — “Road to Nowhere”
Jade Castrinos (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes) — “Here Lies Love”
Alexis Krauss (Sleigh Bells) — “Life During Wartime”
Forro in the Dark — “Girls On My Mind”
Pete Molinari — “Heaven”
Steve Earle with Billy F. Gibbons (ZZ Top) — “A Million Miles Away”
Thievery Corporation — “Heart Is A Lonely Hunter”
Billy F. Gibbons (ZZ Top) — “Houses In Motion”
Bebel Gilberto — “Loco De Amor”
Joseph Arthur — “This Must Be The Place”
Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff — “Once In A Lifetime”
Glen Hansard — “Girlfriend Is Better”
The Roots with Donn T — “Born Under Punches”
O.A.R. — “And She Was”
Sharon Jones — “Psycho Killer”
Santigold — “Burning Down the House”
CeeLo Green — “Take Me To The River”
David Byrne — “Uptown Funk”