Byrne’s solo show is a utopian delight.
Imagine a darkened stage, the twitter of birdsong and a spotlight on a model of a life-like brain that sits upon the centre of a table. Sensing the anticipation of what was to come, the air felt charged with electricity as the stage and audience awaited the eponymous David Byrne. Although the setting initially looked more like a production of Macbeth than a music gig, without a microphone or instrument in sight, the moment Byrne appeared, opening with the poetic, ‘Here’, it was evident this ‘American Utopia’ tour was to be like no other and magical in every way.
As this first song progressed, members of his 12 piece band floated out behind silvery curtains, strategically taking their place on stage and filling the cavernous space of Gold Coast’s Convention Centre with vibrancy. With the entire band, and Byrne himself, clad in sharp grey Kenzo suits and instruments harnessed to their bodies or grasped in their hands, they represented a kind of synchronised, military marching band – yet their gyrating hips, smiling faces and bare feet brought a sense of earthiness and sentimentality to the performance.
The entire show blurred the lines between a gig and theatre, music and poetry. Every single move executed, by both the band and Byrne, was carefully choreographed to perfection and throughout Talking Heads favourites, such as ‘I Zimbra’, ‘This Must be the Place’ and ‘Once in a Lifetime’, the stage was pulsating with funky dance moves, vibrant melodies and some incredible percussion.
The two main dancers in the band, who could almost be described as Byrne’s twin shadows, were outstanding and aside from some spectacular sweat patches, they showed no signs of fatigue. Nor for that matter did Byrne, who floated across the stage and enacted some truly unique dance moves, belting out song after song in his usual flawless manner. Yet, despite the stringent choreography of the almost two hour show, a sense of rawness prevailed.
Seamlessly intertwining Talking Heads classics with material from ‘American Utopia’, Byrne was a true master at keeping the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.‘Everybody’s Coming to My House’ had the Convention Centre rocking and the crowd waving their hands in the air and singing along, as did the vibrant rendition of ‘Toe Jam’, written by Norman Cook aka Fat Boy Slim, not to mention ‘Burning Down the House’ which almost brought the house down given the energy pulsating through the auditorium.
‘Born Under Punches’ packed a real punch, as each band member built up the song, instrument by instrument, talented musician by talented musician leading to the full funk-rock crescendo and some seriously shredding guitars. Once again demonstrating the artistry of the show, ‘Blind’ was accentuated by clever stage lighting that threw the 12 piece band, encircling David, into shadow, giving the already meaningful song an ominous message.
Returning for two encores, ‘Road to Nowhere’ was one of those Talking Heads classics the audience had been dying to hear and the build up of the song exploded in an infectious crescendo of both music and energy.
The final song, originally written by Janelle Monae and first sung at a women’s march in Washington blew me away. Urging us to Google some of the names chanted in the song, the relevance of the context, particularly in America, was apparent. As the band powerfully drummed and reeled off names of black Americans killed by police, this rendition of ‘Hell you Talmbout’ highlighted the irony of the so-called ‘American Utopia’ .
Without a doubt, Byrne’s show surpassed all expectations, both visually and musically. Byrne doesn’t just sing, he sings from the heart and his somewhat powerful messages and lyrics burrow themselves into your soul. It sounds dramatic I know, but this was one of those shows that leaves you feeling elated and wanting to create some kind of social movement or change and reminds you of the power and beauty of music.