Artist: David Byrne
Venue: Hudson Theater
Date: December 26, 2019
During a recent trip to New York, I was able to catch a showing of the legendary David Byrne’s limited Broadway run of his American Utopia show. It was an incredible experience.
For those of you not aware, David Byrne was the lead singer of the famed art-rock band Talking Heads, and has since had a heralded solo career, including his most recent album that provided the name for the stage show, American Utopia.
The show opened with David sitting at a small table in the middle of the stage, as the chain curtains rise around him. Holding a mold of a brain, Byrne launched into the elegiac “Here”, walking to the front of the stage and holding the brain up. This would be one of the only props used in the show, as the entire production is built around David and his band’s lively performance and charismatic personalities.
Brief moments of Byrne addressing the audience allowed time for the audience to reset themselves and the band to set-up for the next song. Though mostly scripted, Byrne did some minor interaction with the audience, noting a young 2 year old child in a parent’s arms in the front row (an extremely well-behaved child thank goodness).
Part of David’s large ensemble were two dancers/back-up singers who showed off incredible footwork, but every member of the band had a vibrant stage presence, admirably keeping up with the simple but mesmerizing choreography while managing to let their own unique personalities shine.
And of course, the music was as rich and beautifully layered and arranged as you would expect. Byrne even took the time to address rumors that the group was using backing tracks to so perfectly capture his songs, and proved these rumors false during one song, having each musician join the song one at a time, until the track fully bloomed.
To point out any one track would be a disservice to the show, which works as a complete entity, but as you might expect, the Talking Heads numbers received the most enthusiastic responses. The classic “This Must be the Place (A Naive Melody)” was an absolute joy to see performed live, while “Burning Down the House” got the entire audience standing and dancing with Byrne’s blessing. Closer “Road to Nowhere” found David and the band literally running around the stage in circles, ending the show on a whimsical high note.
The entire show’s set-list can be streamed via the Broadway cast recording below, though if an opportunity arises to see the performance in person, it’s worth the cost.