Jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding transformed the intro of “Road to Nowhere” into something minor-keyed and bluesed-out and added funky breaks for the chorus. Clad in a dress like a two-sided cape, with an ornament like a Tribble under her right shoulder, it became clear that if she decided to make art-rock a full-time passion, she could give St. Vincent or Dirty Projectors some serious competition. Introduced as the “Hardcore Troubadour,” country outlaw outlier Steve Earle (with help from Gibbons), got a riotous welcome even before he played a note of Byrne’s “A Million Miles Away” — when he did it looked like he was about to strum his mandolin off his strap. The Cee Lo Green version of “Take Me to the River” was a solid midpoint between the Talking Heads version and the Al Green original, and he clearly had a blast.
Other notable moments: Gibbons, in sunglasses and hat, even in Carnegie Hall, turned “Houses in Motion” into a Tom Waits-ian story-song while plunking away on one chord then breaking into two Texas blues-fried solos. For “I Zimbra,” Cibo Matto came armed with what could likely be the first Tenori-On at Carnegie Hall while Nils Cline deftly recreated a more steady-handed version of its squicks and squawks. The punk Afrobeat band Antibalas did a faithful version of the Afrobeat-punk of “Crosseyed and Painless,” though the vamping at the end was more Nigeria than New York. Forro in the Dark’s Tropicália-gone-Blink-182 take on Byrne’s 1992 solo song “Girls on My Mind,” complete with four percussionists going haywire, got a dapper couple in row H to dance by themselves. The Roots are always nothing less than brilliant in these situations, and for “Born Under Punches,” they brought avant-funkateer Donn T for an update of Byrne’s stiff moves (a mix of vogue and the robot) and Talking Heads’ multi-layered grooves of Remain in Light era. ?uestlove’s right hand hard-swung on the hi-hat with a propulsion the gifted Chris Frantz never approached — easily the heaviest groove of the night.
At the end of the night, Byrne himself marched down the left aisle with the 21-piece Brooklyn United Marching Band to perform “God’s Love” — his mic was the only thing that needed amplification. After 21 songs celebrated a legacy that helped introduce underground rock into mainstream culture and made pop music acceptable to the punks, he let Brooklyn United send everyone off with their version of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” — the most popular song in America and one that hearkens back to the late-Seventies/early-Eighties era of funk and hip-hop that Talking Heads were mutating as scruffy art-school students.