First and foremost, if you know anything about the myth, the legend that is David Byrne you will have a rough idea of what you’re getting yourself into with American Utopia, a Broadway show that was concocted by the concert tour from the album of the same name released in 2018.
I’m intrigued by the whole process, a man who has the whole back catalogue of, in my opinion, one of the greatest bands to ever exist at his ready yet he manages to evolve in some way through the years.
The evidence is on show right before your eyes with David Byrne’s American Utopia. When not curiously offering up quirky renditions of Talking Heads numbers and tracks from his latest, it’s the between song dialogue that ignites the senses. From subjects such as social awareness, registering to vote and the makeup of the show, “What we humans like looking at the most, is… yeah.. other humans”.
He confirms the show is about Us and You and with so much to think about after each in between song passage we are offered some of the most engaging, weird and unforgettable on stage choreography you’ve ever seen which makes the evolution complete. David Byrne is the Mr Rogers for adults.
Let’s talk collaboration, in 1983 Byrne and the heads got to work with Jonathan Demme, a future Oscar award winner who made the ‘concert film’ into an art form with Stop Making Sense. In 2020 auteur Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, BlacKkKlansman) gets behind the camera to help the enigmatic front man to bring this musical odyssey to every lounge room possible and solidify the art form furthermore. Lee must of studied the show meticulously as he brilliantly brings this art exhibit to life.
Each shot has a construct and purpose, each edit, angle and aerial shot is filled with interesting moments – moments that you hold onto, turning to the others in the room and smile and think “who comes up with this?” This is far from a traditional rock show which is to be expected this is David Byrne we’re talking about here.
A real highlight of the concert is something of a reaction, after a friend (who saw a show back in 2018) questioned whether there was any playback or effects coming offstage musically to the unique set up – Byrne with the creativity and flair turns this into a real show piece as about the midway point in the show he introduces the band with each of them playing their individual instrument until combining into an interpretation of Remain in Light’s opening track Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On), it’s utterly satisfying and uplifting.
This before a truly powerful moment of positive rage, Byrne and the band catapult into Janelle Monae’s Hell You Talmbout, a powerful protest song about all the African Americans who’ve lost their lives in relation to law enforcement brutality, it’s when images surface in front of you of the individual victims is when it really hits home and delivers the message of injustice – he uses his platform for good here and it’s 100 per cent respectable, he believes in these things with every word, breath and note.
In a year that has seen very little to no live performing this somehow is a perfect answer to your gig-less blues. It’s incredibly joyous, soulful a really next level entertainment.
There’s never a dull moment, the show ends with Road to Nowhere as the band filters into the crowd, a time to merge the you and the us, what a fitting way to conclude this show. What is this thing to be exact? It’s a mirror, a mirror to the upside down world we live in, if you’re on the fence, it’s literally a dozen musicians, in a grey square and a guy who has a lot to say, its looks as quirky as it sounds and if that’s you’re thing you’ve just witnessed your favourite concert of 2020.
It’s pure invention.