I’m going to try something new. Or old. Depends on how you look at it. You see, I have all this footage from all these great shows that happened prior to this blog’s inception way back in September. Some are from last year. Others, earlier. And seeing that January is traditionally a slower month for live music, I thought it would be kind of cool to fill the empty spaces with some of these past experiences.
So for starters, I’m going to travel back to last summer at the Shrine Auditorium, where David Byrne showcased his “American Utopia” tour.
Byrne really needs no introduction. But if you’re memory has slipped, or you’ve managed to bypass his extensive career, he’s formerly the voice and guitarist for the groundbreaking New York City new wave act Talking Heads.
New wave might be a bit of a generalization, though.
From the mid-’70s to the early ’90s, Talking Heads were an amalgamation of many inclinations – ’70s punk and funk, uncharted world music, and traditional rock, to name a few, all neatly bundled into an avant-garde pop sensibility. The results were an eclectic, experimental collage of artsy beguilement, rhythmically cultured, slightly on-edge, yet sampled from international flavors, as well as homegrown grooves. For their time, it was unusual in that they could dabble on these fringes, yet also touch the mainstream.
Some might recall Jonathan Demme’s 1984 landmark concert film “Stop Making Sense,” which introduced the world to Byrne’s big suit, a brand that stuck with Talking Heads, as well as an entirely original concept-based live performance, which even the likes of Trent Reznor used as inspiration for his 2013 NIN “Tension” tour. I’d include an embed of the film here, but I’m sure there’s all types of copyright issues. If you’re interested, you can click here for a YouTube bootleg of it.
There’s plenty to say about Byrne’s solo career, as well as his history with Talking Heads. And really, the only thing you need to know is that he’s still at it, embodying and expanding on all the contributions he’s made to music history. The rest, I’ll leave for you to discover, as there’s no shortage of online info.
That should bring us up to speed.
Byrne’s “American Utopia” show is more an experience than a concert. I know it sounds like a cliché. But this is definitely a case of “you had to be there” to fully appreciate the wonder of what he’s attempting.
The stage was completely empty, save for a floor-to-ceiling curtain. It began with Byrne, sitting at a lone table, singing to what looked to be a brain held in his hand. As the music progressed, building in momentum, various band members emerged from the curtain, barefoot, all dressed in matching suits, instruments strapped to their bodies marching-band style. And for the next two hours, that’s how it went, the entire performance spent on their feet, mobility as the defining factor, as they filled the stage with athletic craft, never once losing momentum, completely in sync, totally drenched in sweat by the end.
I have to admit it took some getting used to. It’s about as non-traditional as concerts get. But the energy and vitality was a sight to behold. At times, I couldn’t believe all that music was coming from these dozen players, completely unconstrained by the empty, unplugged stage design. Yet that proved to be the show’s strength, the music completely unhindered, purified by the open space, freeing the performance to move and groove at will, spontaneous in choreography and execution.
Admittedly, I’ve never seen Byrne, or Talking Heads, live before. So this is most definitely a bucket list show. And like most, I was there to hear those Talking Heads oldies, as well as his recent solo offerings. Thankfully, Byrne was aware of that, performing a fair selection of those hits, including “Once in a Lifetime,” “Burning Down the House,” and “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody).” He’s also hip enough to not make this a retro-nostalgia show, interweaving his solo work seamlessly throughout.
I’ll just leave it at that, and let you check out some of footage below. Like I said, you really had to be there to absorb the full impact of what transpired. But these six clips should give you an adequate taste of what I’ve attempted to describe. Enjoy!
David Byrne performs “Once in a Lifetime” @ the Shrine Auditorium on 08.25.18.
David Byrne performs “Lazy” @ the Shrine Auditorium on 08.25.18.
David Byrne performs “Burning Down the House” @ the Shrine Auditorium on 08.25.18.
David Byrne performs “Slippery People” @ the Shrine Auditorium on 08.25.18.
David Byrne performs “Blind” @ the Shrine Auditorium on 08.25.18.
David Byrne performs “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” @ the Shrine Auditorium on 08.25.18.