Review: Caetano Veloso and David Byrne – Live at Carnegie Hall

coverAny long term relationship requires some common interest. The one thing my girlfriend and I really differ on is music. I like almost everything she’s subjected me to, but I can’t say the reverse is true. This is why the announcement of the release of Live at Carnegie Hall caught my attention. Finally, there’s an album for the both of us. Caetano Veloso is one of her favorites, David Byrne one of mine, and both are fans of each other which explains the collaboration. Byrne hooked Veloso up with some domestic exposure in the late 80s via his own Luaka Bop label, and Veloso covered “(Nothing But) Flowers” on his first all-English disc, 2004’s A Foreign Sound. That same year, Veloso took up a week long residence at Carnegie Hall and invited Byrne to join him one night. This recording was the result. Byrne blames the eight year delay on “[r]ecord business nonsense,” but now it’s here and ready for consumption.

Chances are, if you’re reading this you’re more familiar with David Byrne than Caetano Veloso. Veloso is probably one of the biggest music artists in Brazil, having worked in everything from pop music, to singer-songwriter, to straight up Brazilian folk music. Byrne, for those not in the know, was in some band called Talking Heads and has had a solo career, too. This disc would probably serve well as a quick introduction to Caetano Veloso for any Americans (or other nationalities) unfamiliar with the man’s work, but with a familiarity with Byrne’s. As someone who isn’t terribly on top Veloso’s output, I’m unable to comment on the song selection from his discography, though my girlfriend noted that none of her favorite songs were on there.

The acoustic show has Veloso with the stage to himself at the start, later joined by percussion and cello, for six tightly performed, soulful guitar pieces. Partway through a cover of Byrne’s “The Revolution,” Byrne joins the group on stage. Together, they go into a short set of Talking Heads tracks and Byrne solo cuts. David notes that he “was incredibly nervous, and I remember having flubbed on a chord or two,” and they’re kept that way on the recoding, along with a few vocal gaffes. It might feel a bit odd, in contrast with the taut performance on Byrne’s on Live from Austin, TX, but also shows the emotion he has playing alongside someone of Veloso’s stature and friendship in such a legendary space as Carnegie Hall. You can’t really blame the guy.

By the time they get to their 1998 collaboration, “Dreamworld: Marco de Canaveses,” Byrne’s settled down, and the album really heats up. The high point is a performance of “(Nothing But) Flowers,” that shows both the contrasts and commonalities of Veloso and Byrne’s worlds. It starts off slow, but as it picks up pace it becomes clear that both men and the audience are having a lot of fun. You will too. The album closes with a Veloso song, the moody “Terra,” and then (appropriately), Byrne’s “Heaven.” While it’s probably not an essential album to have if you’re only a casual fan of either David Byrne or Caetano Veloso, it is a great document of a unique performance by both. Proper fans of either artist—or both—should look into it as both a way to enjoy their favorite’s work and get a little glimpse into someone else’s world.

Richard J. Anderson is a writer based in Philadelphia, PA. He blogs at SansPoint, and also keeps track of neat things from the internet at Want a Breath Mint.


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