One hundred and forty one shows into his American Utopia Tour, and David Byrne and his 11-piece band looked and sounded as vibrant and fresh as opening night. NZ pop favourite Kimbra opened the show. I’d have to include the former Talking Heads frontman… notoriously “tense and nervous” as one of the five least likely artists I would have thought to perform an entire concert barefoot, but its seems the 66 year old has learned to loosen up a bit over the years.
Byrne first appeared on an empty stage, looking quite professorial with his grey suit and white hair, seated at a small table, holding a moulded plastic human brain while singing Here, a song from American Utopia that identifies various parts of the brain and their functions.
Before the song was over, Byrne was joined, one by one, by his band, also barefoot and dressed in matching grey suits.
Together the dozen musicians…six percussionists, guitar, bass, keyboard and two backing vocalists/dancers generated a glorious sound, despite the fact that the stage remained void of any gear…no amplifiers, no drum kits, no monitors…giving the band free rein to move, to dance freely. And dance they did.
This was a band in perpetual motion, untethered by any cables, they carried their instruments and moved in unison, with Byrne gamely keeping up.
The early part of the show was spiked with rhythmic Talking Heads gems such as I Zimbra, Slippery People and Once In A Lifetime. The sound was almost too perfect, giving the impression that perhaps what we were hearing possibly wasn’t all live.
Byrne put those thoughts to rest as he explained how, while playing in Texas, a friend asked, “Are you guys really playing all that music?”
David assured him (and us) that “Everything you hear coming off this stage is being played by these superb musicians”, and then to prove it, they built up Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On), one-by-one as Byrne introduced them.
The crowd was loving the vintage Talking Heads tunes, with most of the folks on the floor seats, standing and dancing through the first half of the set. The second part of the show featured newer songs and the energy level dipped a tad. But it was never boring… the choreography was wonderful, the lighting dazzling and the sound crystal clear.
By the time they wrapped up the set with Burning Down The House, the crowd was ready to get down. And they did.
Encores included two more Talking Heads classics… Road To Nowhere and The Great Curve... before the ensemble finally wrapped with a version of Janelle Monáe's powerful Hell You Talmount, a song that features the names of African Americans killed due to racially-motivated violence.
This was a show that looked and sounded like no other. It’s one fans will be talking about for some time to come. I hope you were there. If not, there are four more to go… but they are all in Australia.
More images in the photo gallery further below.
David Byrne set list
- I Zimbra
- Slippery People
- I Should Watch TV
- Dog’s Mind
- Everybody’s Coming To My House
- This Mus Be The Place (Naïve Melody)
- Once In A Lifetime
- Doing The Right Thing
- Toe Jam
- Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)
- I Dance Like This
- Every Day Is A Miracle
- Like Humans Do
- Burning Down The House
- Road To Nowhere
- The Great Curve
- Hell You Talmbout