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by Sally Applin

During the past few weeks, I attended two different concerts: Neil Diamond and David Byrne. Both fringe “boomer” bands and both interesting to me for different reasons. Neil Diamond’s concert seemed heavily weighted towards Baby Boomers and their parents, while David Byrne’s seemed to attract Baby Boomers and their children.

Both concerts addressed the human condition. Neil Diamond took it in a spiritual direction, while David Byrne asked a lot of questions. Both performers used African rhythms, African-Americans or just Africans/African Americans as back up singers. The sound flavor of Africa is primal, early to our roots as humans (in my belief system anyway) and for the themes of the human condition, soundly comforting.

Neil’s take on the human condition was to address it within the framework of salivation. He began with the energy and pop of his younger material. “Sweet Caroline” was sung with extra choruses to insure that everyone in the audience had a chance to see and hear him sing it–and also to drive home the point that “good times never seemed so good.” Midway through the show, Neil took us down to the bottom of the arc where he became the “Solitary Man” and his duet partner told him “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore.”

After taking us to the depths of solitary despair, Neil talked to the audience about being spiritual, being a man of “the Lord” and of his country, and sang a spiritual song, followed by “America in Blue Jeans” with the latter song featuring projected images of the World Trade Center, the American flag, immigrants and the Statue of Liberty. This emotion was capped with a rousing “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show,” which delivered us from a solitary state and from the trials of immigration into a revival tent. It sort of seemed like he was telling a life story of someone who had suffered and then “saved” in some way.

Neil’s story likely works for the parents of boomers who are immigrants who came here and made their own way, who feel a certain bond with America and who had Neil Diamond songs providing the soundtrack for their lives.

David Byrne took us on a different journey. Byrne and his entire ensemble wore white–as if they were already in heaven or some sort of clean place. Byrne’s hair is a shock of white as well which made him blend in with the crowd of peers who had come to see him with their adult children. As he sang, three dancers, all younger people, interacted with him during the performance. It was sort of like watching an old man ducking younger people on the sidewalk or in the park as they skidded under his legs, leapfrogged over him, and spun him around. Throughout this, he just kept playing his music, doing his thing.

The story in Byrne’s show was similiar, though the nostalgic hits were interspersed with current material–a collaboration with Brian Eno. The Eno pieces were obvious, as he has a signature to his work that changes rhythm from the energy of the early Talking Heads material. The arc was different in this case. He moved us from the urgent energy of the early Talking Heads, towards a more laid back and curious mindset. Then the build took us to “Burning Down the House.” Byrne didn’t seem to be seeking “Salvation,” he seemed to be getting “ready to rumble” with the human condition.

In preparation, Byrne surrounded himself with a cacophony of trickers to stave off the inevitable. The finale to Byrne’s performance was an surprise performance by The Extra Action Marching Band. The Extra Action marching band is from San Francisco. This quote is from their website:

The Extra Action Marching Band is a collision of big band and ecstatic turmoil. Despite their name they rarely march, but rather shimmy, crawl, mob and charge. Trumpets pounce like eagles and tubas drip ass-bouncing blurps from fat fingers. Drums shudder under wild eyed and white knuckled drummers, and through it all winds the flag team; glittering and sinuous creatures who masterfully pulsate pom-poms in a hypnotic fantasy. The listener is hoodwinked, soaked, and savaged into giddy abandon.

Powerful and empowering, the Extra Action Marching Band seduces the pre-civilized will. They are immediate and visceral – more of a sweaty invitation than a show. They are a parody of idioms with shattering volume – guerrilla theater with the rug rolled up…

As the sound boils into a spinning crossfire, sweat and flying hair tangle in a delicious knot. Audience and band submit together, to each other, to the whim and fancy, to satisfaction. Irresistible.

I don’t know about you, but “dancing towards empowerment” is more of my kind of salvation.

Trend: We’re all on the “Road to Nowhere.” The real question is “Which way do you want to travel?”

©2008-2014 Sally A. Applin. All rights reserved.