Thursday, November 07, 2019

David Byrne's American Utopia on Broadway


David Byrne's tour behind his record American Utopia has landed on Broadway and is an absolute must-see for any music lover (or human being with ears).

Amazing. Awe-inspiring. Exhilarating. An absolute masterpiece. Pitchfork raved and NME suggested it was the "most ambitious and impressive live show of all time" when the tour hit Europe in 2018. All of those statements and words could be used to describe David Byrne's American Utopia and still, all of this feel like an understatement. It's not to say that it's the greatest musical experience I've ever encountered, I'm just at a bit of a loss when it comes to thinking of anything that even comes close in comparison. Taking to an empty stage, Byrne is joined by a sensational group of musicians that bring his songs to life in the most momentous and jaw-dropping ways that at times it feels all too real and somewhat impossible that this could, in fact, be real. Billed as his most ambitious performance since Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense shows, the hype not only lives up to these wild expectations, but also exceeds them in every possible manner. The choreography is impeccable, each musician falling firmly into place without ever losing a beat and providing pristine instrumentation that gives each song sublime energy that builds throughout the show creating moment after moment of unimaginable perfection. Yes, each statement feels like hyperbole, but it's practically impossible to explain just how magical this show is that writing about it almost feels like an injustice. Talking Heads music has long been referred to as "art-rock" and capital-A Artist feels like the most appropriate title for a person of David Byrne's stature. Aside from fronting one of the best bands of the 70s AND the 80s, an adventurous and pioneering solo artist, and an author who writes specifically about How Music Works (to name a very short few), there aren't many who fit the title better than him and American Utopia is another monumental chapter in an already titanic career. As the opening notes to each song began to rumble off the stage, the crowd would erupt with joy and for a bit, it was clear that the audience was unsure of how exactly they should react. Is this a Broadway show or a concert? Do we remain seated or do we get up and singalong to each mesmerizing tune? While at first it wasn't exactly clear, that feeling subsided rather quickly as more hits were unleashed and the band bolstered their performance and really began to groove, taking things to a whole new level. "Don't Worry About the Government" was an early favorite and highlighted the direction the night was headed and not long after, everything was in full bloom as Byrne launched into "This Must be the Place (Naïve Melody)." There was a slight narrative that strung together the songs, but otherwise it was the music that spoke for itself. "We’re all immigrants and we couldn’t do this show without them" Byrne proudly proclaims at one point, his political diatribe feels perfectly on point, but never preachy. Towards the middle of the set, the band played "Once in a Lifetime" and it felt as if time stood still for a brief moment. It was electric. A moment that I, personally, will never forget and without a doubt one of the best live performances I've ever been fortunate enough to witness. The crowd didn't stop cheering for what felt like minutes after the song concluded and Byrne stood there with the most humble look on his face, still honored to be performing after all of these years. As time went on, it became clear that this was indeed a rock concert and getting up to dance was not only allowed, but highly encouraged. "You can dance all you want, but the fire department will be upset if you're in the aisle. It's an unfair advantage to escape if the place burns down" Byrne remarked before "Burning Down the House" which resulted in near pandemonium as the room rose to their feet to join together in one of the most brilliant dance parties ever to occur in a Broadway Theatre. If "Once in a Lifetime" wasn't already a peak of the night, this posed as the next best moment. The live instrumentation was superb and the fluidity of the band was inspirational. A boisterous cover of Janelle Monae's "Hell You Talmbout" includes the band demanding the audience echo the names of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Emmet Till and others that were murdered at the hands of racist individuals and systematic injustices. "Say his name! Say her name!" they cry in what's the most explicit political moment of the night. Everyone was joyous beyond compare and there was never a doubt about the amount of fun that was being had on stage. Just when it seemed like the night was over, the band came back to a dark stage and slowly rolled out "Road to Nowhere" which resulted in tears streaming down my face. It was chilling, moving, and downright euphoric. If there was ever a moment where music felt religious, this was what I expect seeing the face of God to feel like. There are concerts and then there is David Byrne's American Utopia on Broadway. To call it a concert feels wrong because it dilutes everything that happens on that stage. Sensational. Phenomenal. Pure nirvana. Once again, there aren't terms that accurately describe the experience of this musical event, but one thing is for sure, it's without question the best thing for anyone that is a fan of music, life affirming in every degree.


Set list:

01 "Here"
02 "I Know Sometimes a Man Is Wrong"
03 "Don't Worry About the Government"
04 "Lazy"
05 "This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)"
06 "I Zimbra"
07 "Slippery People"
08 "I Should Watch TV"
09 "Everybody's Coming to My House"
10 "Once in a Lifetime"
11 "Glass, Concrete & Stone"
12 "Toe Jam"
13 "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)"
14 "I Dance Like This"
15 "Bullet"
16 "Every Day Is a Miracle"
17 "Blind"
18 "Burning Down the House"
19 "Hell You Talmbout"
20 "One Fine Day"
--
21 "Road to Nowhere"

No comments: