By Scott Thill
Last year, David Byrne wrapped an engaging road show of music and dance to promote Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, his first sonic collaboration with Brian Eno since 1981.
This year, the cinematic chronicle of that arty merge, Ride, Rise, Roar, celebrates its world premiere at the South By Southwest Film Festival and Conference in Austin, Texas.
"The fact that they decided to combine modern dance with a rock show was risky," director David Hillman Curtis told Wired.com by e-mail, ahead of Ride, Rise, Roar's Monday premiere at the Paramount Theater, the first of three SXSW screenings this week. "It could have backfired quite easily. But it fits with David, since he is involved in many forms of art. They managed to pull it off through trust in collaboration."
According to Curtis, Byrne and an extensive crew of choreographers, dancers and technicians melded minds and contributions to make the tour work. The ex-Talking Heads front man gave the choreographers free reign.
"Everyone was involved," Curtis said. "The backup singers and David all had dance parts that were integrated with the dancers. It was a very cool process to witness."
Unlike Jonathan Demme's classic concert film Stop Making Sense, which immortalized Byrne's genius for live performance, Ride, Rise, Roar digs behind the onstage antics to document their creation. That meta filter gives Curtis' measured film an added layer of intertextual intimacy.
It's a fine mirror of the fusion found in Byrne and Eno's sound on Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, which mashed folktronic gospel and pop. The record is nothing like the duo's previous experimental collaboration, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.
But virtuosity is what has made David Byrne a continually compelling figure. Whether he's hybridizing music, building sonic architectures or just starring in perhaps the finest concert film ever, he's got gravitational pull.
"He's one of my favorite musicians," said Curtis. "David's career is still very vital, and his longevity is obvious. You always wonder what he'll do next."
One hopes that includes reuniting for a tour with the Talking Heads, which Byrne has consistently opposed, according to drummer Chris Franz. But even Curtis would like to see that show.
"As long as Chris doesn't yell 'James Brown' over and over in the Tom Tom Club sequence," he said. "Seriously, they were a great band and it would be cool to see them together again. Especially if there were new songs."