On September 21st, 2012 I drove to Montreal to see the wonderful David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame*). The bill advertised that he’d be performing with St. Vincent (of no fame whatsoever, as far as I knew when I bought the ticket) at the Église St-Jean-Baptiste Church in Montreal, which seemed appropriate.
Before this night I was wholly unfamiliar with both saints, but at least I knew that one was a church. I had no idea that the other was a fabulously quirky robot-mimicking angular in-your-face guitar player who could easily steal any show she was a part of. Suffice to say that both saints were immediately impressive.
God has always been lucky when it comes to finding good architects, and the St. John the Baptist Church in the heart of Montreal is no exception. The building is big, old (by Canadian standards), and grand, with vaulted ceilings and flying buttresses stretching halfway to heaven and a huge pipe organ that covers the entire back wall. At the front was a large stage with nothing on it whatsoever, looking all the plainer surrounded as it was with such ornateness. Taking my seat in a pew near the front and off to the right my head slowly stretched around and took in the holy splendour.
As I say, it was all pretty impressive, and the show had yet to start.
When the concert began the church seemed to instantly shrink in deference to the talent onstage. Byrne had outfitted himself with what basically amounted to a marching band, eight or more brass players and a drummer or two who walked around the stage completely untethered. Of course, with him was St. Vincent, strutting the boards in fits and jerks with her pointy, wireless guitar that punctuated every great song with even-greaterness.
Did I mention that she’s beautiful, with hair big enough to win a war and heels spiked like Mormon punch? As the sousaphone, trumpet, and trombone players (and even the great, great David Byrne) struck abstract poses and blatted out rhythms behind the young six-string monster it soon became very, very clear that this St. Vincent lady was destined to be a star.
And never mind that I don’t think I recognized a single song until the first encore (which closed with a scorchingly awesome Burning Down the House), there was never a chance to be bored nor a single opportunity to be unenthralled; the music was utterly interesting throughout and played with the oomph one would expect when musicians get to play in such a hallowed hall as the Église St-Jean-Baptiste.
And then in the final encore the band eschewed the stage altogether and melded with the grandiose space. The musicians scattered themselves strategically throughout the aisles of the church and played from all corners of the room. After a minute or so I noticed that my insides were shaking a little, and arcing around I saw that one of the musicians had hopped on that big, wall-encompassing pipe organ and was deep in Phantom-mode, filling the sonic cracks in the air with a wash of massive tubular polyphony.
It was precisely the pomp that the circumstance called for, and it was glorious.
Then it was over. After catching my breath I rose from my seat and perused the merch table. In a holy daze, I bought a copy of David Byrne’s book How Music Works (which I still haven’t read) and drove back to Ottawa feeling very reverent and peaceful.
*In all fairness, David Byrne has been so consistently brilliant throughout his decades-long solo career that he should by all rights be known simply as “David Byrne (of David Byrne fame).”