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BYRNE'S OFFERINGS THE ERSTWHILE TALKING HEADS FRONTMAN KEEPS HIS COOL, BUT HIS MUSIC CONTINUES TO GENERATE HEAT.

Byline: Rob Lowman Entertainment Editor

Same as he ever was? Not really.

``I think I've got this touring thing down finally,'' says David Byrne with a laugh. After years on buses and planes - first with the Talking Heads, the band he fronted from 1976 to 1988, and then as a solo artist - Byrne says he's finally enjoying himself on the road.

``We have five bicycles on the bus, which helps us get around and see things while on tour,'' says the 52-year-old singer-songwriter who Saturday is playing at Walt Disney Concert Hall with his 10-piece band.

And while Byrne says he's looking forward to playing at the state-of-the-art venue, he's also excited to be staying in downtown L.A. and not in West Hollywood, where he's usually billeted. ``I'm planning to visit MOCA, which is across the street, and there's a Mexican marketplace nearby I want to go that has all kinds of different spices.''

Different spices is an apt way to describe Byrne's latest album, ``Grown Backwards'' (Nonesuch). While Byrne's signature high, slightly weary-sounding voice is evident, the CD has a less-percussive sound than you would expect. That's because instead of building the songs from the bottom up with rhythms and adding melodies afterward as he's done in the past, Byrne hummed bits of tunes and lyrics into a mini-cassette recorder.

The result is a textured work that includes elegant string and horn arrangements. Not that drums have been forgotten. There are plenty of funk, African and Latin percussive sounds on ``Grown Backwards,'' which the All Music Guide calls ``a genuinely moving and wickedly fun record.''

Adding more spice is the inclusion of the arias ``Un Di Felice, Eterea,'' from Verdi's ``La Traviata,'' and ``Au Fond du Temple Saint,'' a duet from Bizet's ``The Pearl Fishers,'' which Byrne performs with Rufus Wainwright. Byrne says he collects music he likes on his computer, and has had these two piece of music around for a while. ``Then I thought if I sang them in my normal voice - not try to be operatic - they might work.''

And while Placido Domingo has no worries, both pieces complement the emotional feel of the album. ``All this time there was love, anger, sadness and frustration,'' Byrne writes on the liner notes of ``Grown Backwards,'' talking about the period in which he created the album. The title refers to not only the creative musical process but also to changes and events in Byrne's life.

``How do I come to write a song like 'She Only Sleeps'?,'' he says, repeating the question. ``I don't know. I don't know any lap dancers.'' Then Byrne gropes about a bit uneasily, trying to describe the song, before saying, ``When you love somebody ... .'' But he doesn't seem sure what he wants to say, as if he doesn't want to commit to any easy explanation.

Since his last true solo album - the 2001 ``Look Into the Eyeball'' (the 2003 ``Lead Us Not Into Temptation'' was essentially a soundtrack for the film ``Young Adam'') - Byrne's 15-year marriage dissolved and he moved out of his Greenwich Village brownstone. (He has a 15-year-old daughter.)

``Glass and concrete and stone ... It is just a house, not a home,'' he sings on the opening cut of the album, setting its heartfelt tone.

As a longtime New Yorker, the tragedy of 9-11 also affected him. That, too, is reflected in songs on ``Grown Backwards.'' On ``Empire,'' he takes an imperious tone as he sings, ``Young artists and writers, please heed the call. What's good for business, is good for us all,'' as majestic horns arranged by Carla Bley soar behind him.

``I wanted it to sound like an anthem,'' Byrne says. But he worries about whether the song works. ``It's meant to be ironic, but I'm afraid people will misinterpret it.'' Byrne makes it clear on the liner notes that he sees the war in Iraq as ``the misguided legacy of a nation still reeling.''

When Randy Newman is mentioned as someone who writes ironic songs, Byrne notes that he and Newman share the same problem - people wrongly taking what is meant as satire seriously. ``I think 'Empire' only works because I sing it ... I don't know if it would if someone else did.''

But Saturday's show won't only have songs from ``Grown Backwards.'' Byrne and his band - which includes the Tosca Strings and his longtime backing band (bassist Paul Frazier, drummer Kenny Wollesen and percussionist Mauro Refosco) - will perform ``rearranged'' Talking Heads numbers, some songs that didn't make the albums as well as covers for what promises to be an eclectic, fun evening.

``This is a man who can stand on stage ... and sing opera ... and then, without a hitch, slip into the rocking hit 'Psycho Killer,' '' wrote the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about a recent tour stop.

So while the heady carnival days of the Heads are behind him, Byrne isn't burning down the house when it comes to his old band. While he admits to enjoying his solo career very much, when asked if he prefers his new life, Byrne plays it close to the vest. 'They're different,'' he says simply.''

Same as he ever was? Not really.

Rob Lowman, (818) 713-3687

robert.lowman(at)dailynews.com

DAVID BYRNE

Where: Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets: $35 to $75. Call (213) 480-3232 or go to ticketmaster.com.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 27, 2004
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