David Byrne/Thomas Mapfumo & Wadada Leo SmithLa Zona Rosa, Saturday, March 17
Live Shots: South by Southwest 2001
David Byrne/Thomas Mapfumo & Wadada Leo Smith
La Zona Rosa, Saturday, March 17 It was a South by Southwest moment: During Jim White's twisted folk-rock set -- the second act of four -- the evening's opener, troubled troubadour Johnny Dowd, mingled with fans, while buxom babes passed out beer company promo swag and headliner David Byrne was being bought tequila shots at the back bar. Once onstage, the former Talking Head told the large assembly, "We're going to play some old stuff and some new stuff," subsequently doing tunes from his former band, material from the Texas-filmed Byrne movie True Stories, and some of his own solo material, including a few from his album due out this summer. After an introductory ballad and a fine version of "Naked," Byrne introed "And She Was" by stating that it was inspired by a friend from high school who used to take LSD and lay out in a field by the Yoo-hoo chocolate drink factory. Throughout his hourish set, Byrne showed the difference between professional and amateur musician -- not only in song pedigree, but also in execution. The classic Heads' tune "Same as It Ever Was," kicked ass, thanks to the excellent band you'd expect Byrne to have. Then a very pleasant surprise: Most of Austin's classical tango outfit Tosca joined Byrne and company for the rest of their set, creating some SXSW magic. Thanks to Byrne's clout, the set by Zimbabwean roots artist Thomas Mapfumo was moved right after Byrne's. In contrast to Mapfumo's Austin appearance last year and next month, both at Flamingo Cantina, the Lion of Zimbabwe's SXSW set was the only date to feature the avant-jazz talents of trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and his tight band N'Da Kulture, the team that put together Mapfumo's new album Dreams & Secrets. Mapfumo and Smith struck a fine image together with their butt-length dreadlocks. The Lion's set began simply with the singer's brother on percussion and congas, and two gourd thumb pianos called mbiras, which played interlocking melodies that danced like raindrops on steel drums. Afterwards, Smith played his trumpet through a wah-wah pedal, channeling a Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis. Stylistically, Mapfumo's conscious roots music mixed well with Smith's avant-jazz, though it seemed the stage wasn't big enough for both as they took turns and only performed together for a few songs.
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