David Byrne made a surprise appearance during an all-star celebration of his music last night. At the end of promoter Michael Dorf’s The Music of David Byrne and Talking Heads tribute at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Byrne marched through the crowd and onto the stage with the Brooklyn United Marching Band t while performing “God’s Love.” The Talking Heads frontman then brought the rest of the evening’s performers onstage to dance during the show’s climax, a brass version of the Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson hit “Uptown Funk.”
Last night’s performance marked the 11th time Dorf has paid tribute to an iconic artist at the famed New York venue. All of the evening’s proceeds supported music education organizations for underprivileged children. Dorf—the visionary behind the Knitting Factory and City Winery—explained the show’s mission at the start of the show before bringing up Little Kids Rock, some of the beneficiaries, to play the 1987 Talking Heads song “Stay Up Late” from Little Creatures. Dorf met Byrne for the first time at a Cibo Matto show at the Knitting Factory, so it made sense that the Japanese indie group played next. For their version of “I Zimbra,” the group was joined by co-founder Yuka Honda’s husband and Wilco guitarist Nels Cline. Nodding to Byrne’s love of cycling, a bicycle drawing sat on the house keyboard throughout the first two numbers.
Like last year’s Carnegie Hall tribute to Paul Simon, New York Afro-beat ensemble Antibalas served as the evening’s house band. After taking the stage, they offered their own variation on “Crosseyed and Painless” before bringing out Esperanza Spalding for the hit “Road to Nowhere,” former Edward Sharpe singer Jade Castrinos for the Fatboy Slim collaboration “Here Lies Love”—a song Byrne debuted in the US during his Carnegie Hall residency in 2005—and Sleigh Bells’ Alexis Krauss for the punky “Life During Wartime.” In one of the evening’s most moving moments, former New York school teacher Krauss brought out her father, who helped teach music in her classroom, to sing backup vocals.
The members of Antibalas took a short break while Byrne collaborators Forro in the Dark performed “Girls on My Mind” and Pete Molinari dug into “Heaven,” but they returned in time to help Steve Earle through Byrne’s 1992 solo song “A Million Miles Away” from Uh-Oh. Earle also enlisted some extra muscle from ZZ Top guitarist Billy F. Gibbons, who blended into the big-band ensemble. Next, the members of Thievery Corporation joined part of Antibalas for their 2005 Byrne collaboration “The Heart’s a Lonely Hunter.”
Gibbons returned to the stage for his selection, “Houses in Motion,” and, during a joke, broke the news that Byrne was backstage. Brazilian bossa nova singer Bebel Gilberto performed with her own ensemble and tackled the salsa number “Loco de Amor” from Bryne’s 1989 world music album.
However, it was the show’s next two performers who truly expressed Byrne’s artistic range and love of visual art. Joseph Arthur sang “This Must Be The Place,” while live painting onstage during Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff’s rendition of “Once In a Lifetime” turned the song into a piece of performance art—complete with lyrical cue cards, a dancer in Byrne’s “big suit” and a cameo from Glen Hansard. The Frames frontman jetted back onstage after Palmer’s bow to play “Girlfriend Is Better,” earning the night’s first standing ovation.
Antibalas returned the stage for the evening’s final segment, which focused on the rhythmic grooves so essential to Talking Heads’ music. First, they collaborated with The Roots and singer Donn T on “Born Under Punches”—combining members of two of New York’s unofficial house bands—and then they backed jam-pop group O.A.R. on the hit “And She Was.” Daptone label mate Sharon Jones, who has the deepest ties to Antibalas, joined in on a powerful “Psycho Killer” that brought the normally seated crowd to their feet. Most of the audience remained standing as Santigold fronted Antibalas on “Burning Down the House”—dropping back during her song to play percussion with the band—and a bedazzled CeeLo Green closed the show proper with a soul version of the Talking Heads-adopted Al Green sing-along “Take Me To The River.”
As Green moved to the side of the stage, Byrne and his marching band paraded into the crowd to close the night. He joins the likes of Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M. as a performer who made a surprise appearance at his own tribute show.
After the show ended, many of the night’s performers moved downtown for an official after show at City Winery. Malian group Songhoy Blues, who had their own show at Rockwood Music Hall, offered a short set, and Antibalas played an encore set. The Afro-beat band offered a mix of Talking Heads covers and originals and brought out Jones, Gilberto and others during their late-night set.