All artistic on various fronts

Best known as co-founder of the deeply innovative and influential pop-rock group Talking Heads, David Byrne, the now-defunct act’s frontman during its 12-year career that ended in 1988, will be returning to Athens for one performance this Thursday. A solo artist who has remained deeply immersed in his multifaceted work, which often stretches beyond music to include photography and design, Byrne last visited the Greek capital as a headline performer at a WOMAD two summers ago. His was a fitting inclusion on the traveling world music event’s bill, considering Byrne’s efforts in promoting music from exotic – as perceived by the West – parts of the world on his own Luaka Bop label. This, along with WOMAD, and its founder Peter Gabriel’s similar-minded label, Real World, helped spur the now fashionable world music scene. As exemplified by the recent reception at WOMAD in Athens, Byrne has maintained a sturdy Greek following, based on both his still effervescent work with Talking Heads and worthy newer solo ventures. Even so, Thursday night’s show could, as developments have turned out in a completely different department, soccer, subdue the turnout at the 3,500-capacity Vrachon Theater in the Vyronas district. The Greek national soccer team’s coinciding Euro 2004 semifinal clash against the Czech Republic in Portugal, a fairy-tale ride for a team that had never before won a match at a major tournament, is likely to keep some prospective concert-goers glued to TV sets. Unless the artist, renowned for his eccentric artistic ways and fascination with the audiovisual medium, makes yet another radical decision, like, for example, installing a giant screen for – silent – live match coverage! Highlighting the soccer competition’s widespread impact on life here, local electronica artist Constantinos Beta, performing a free show last week at one of the several outdoor stages set up around the city to celebrate World Music Day, interrupted his performance after a nearby roar of excitement erupted. «Did we win?» he asked the crowd about a concurrent first-round match played by the Greek team. Should all remain as is, it remains to be seen how much of an effect the heightened importance of Thursday’s semifinal clash will have on Byrne’s show. The timing is unfortunate, but, then again, Greece’s prolonged run at the European Soccer Championships has already made its mark as one of the most unanticipated developments in the tournament’s history. Returning to music, Byrne, who first performed here in 1982 with Talking Heads in one of the country’s first major foreign rock shows following the stifling restrictions of the military dictatorship (1967-1974), is currently touring with a new album, «Grown Backwards,» his eighth post-Talking Heads recording. The album finds middle ground between Byrne’s orchestral epic «The Forest,» released in 1991, and 1989’s South American-inspired «Rei Momo.» A mature work, «Grown Backwards» depicts an artist who has come to terms with his past, present and future. Even the album’s heavier subject matter has an effervescent charm. The Texas-based Tosca Strings chamber group, which backs Byrne on the majority of the new album’s tracks, is also accompanying him on the current tour. Besides his music, Byrne, who has been involved with photography and design since his college days and has been exhibiting his work over the past decade, recently won Wired high-tech magazine’s top prize for a solo exhibition, «PowerPoint.» Byrne used the software, best known for mind-numbing presentations that transform clumsy salespeople into confident, corporate warriors, to produce controversial art. Like his film and musical projects, Byrne’s artwork is often described as elevating the mundane or the banal to the level of art, creating icons out of everyday materials. «A big part of American culture is business culture. I owe it to myself to acknowledge it, to say, OK, this is part of my life, part of my work, part of the world I live in. PowerPoint can make almost anything appear good and look professional. Quite frankly, I find that a little bit frightening,» Byrne told Wired magazine. «Slickness is not always something that is desired. It’s just trying to knock you over, trying to hype you up. That’s a danger if there’s actually nothing there,» he added. Byrne’s prolific and diverse activity has also led to the release of four books in recent years. The latest of these, «Envisaging Emotional Epistemological Information» (Steidl/PaceMacGill, 2003), focuses on Byrne’s use of the presentation software PowerPoint as an art medium.