David Byrne: American Utopia Tour — Oakland, CA
Music always surrounded me in my home. Growing up in Detroit in the 70s and 80s, I was lucky enough to have parents (especially my Dad) that made an abundance of music part of our daily life. With hundreds of albums at my disposal, many afternoons and rainy days were spent poring over album art and the sound of the music within the sleeves. The collection was rock and soul heavy, but slowly new wave, post-punk, new romantic, and Talking Heads arrived. As soon as this kid heard David Byrne, he was hooked. I didn’t know that I was missing more “art” in my music until Talking Heads came around.
Throughout the years I’ve been obsessed with David Byrne. While I have taken years off, the man is an artist you can always come back to, due to his incredible work ethic and dedication to all of his art. Musician, visual artist, writer, director, collaborator, activist, cyclist, blogger (and I’m probably missing something). His band, Talking Heads are as timeless as they come, mixing genre’s, influencing indie bands and everyone else who has heard them for the last four decades. So as soon as my girlfriend heard David Byrne was coming to Oaktown, she bought us tickets to the show. And nothing is better than that.
As the show opened, the spotlight shone and there sat the man at a desk with a brain on it on an otherwise empty stage. It was an intriguing start. He then stood singing the simple, ambient track “Here” and pointed out the different areas of the brain in sync with the lyrics of the song. Slowly, the rest of the artists/backing band arrived on stage wearing matching suits without shoes, just like Mr. Byrne. As they transitioned into “Lazy” (a 2002 #1 Dance track he’s featured on by the EDM duo X-Press 2) that was being played with live instrumentation, we could see the evening start to take shape. It is worth noting that the show is completely wireless for the entire band, there are no speakers or amps and there are no stands of any kind on stage for the entire performance. Think marching band meets performance art on a sparse stage made exciting only by the curtains of beads, the lighting and the performers themselves.
Halfway through the second song and the sold-out crowd was already in a frenzy — in a theater made for sitting, not dance parties. Byrne wasted no time diving into two Talking Heads tracks in a row, the Afro-pop influenced “I Zimbra” followed by the call-and-response favorite “Slippery People,” that had the crowd speaking in tongues (see what I did there?). The show featured a satisfying setlist that included new and original material, like the anthem “Everybody’s Coming to My House” that he recently performed on Colbert’s The Late Show which had the entire crowd singing along. They also dug into one of his St. Vincent collaboration tracks, “I Should Watch TV,” as well as the cheeky track “Toe Jam” that he composed with Dizzee Rascal. Last but not quite the end, “Burning Down The House” got anyone who may have sat down back up on their feet and primed for the encores.
This show is a mix of Byrne’s classic haphazard movements and highly choreographed routines with a 12 piece band, which gave us a sense of the seriousness he has for his craft. Byrne keeps the energy high and the evening fun. This performance was extremely positive, but not without a powerful ending when, for their second and final encore, the band covered Janelle Monae’s protest song “Hell You Talmbout.” If you are not familiar with this song, it begs the listener to call out the names of many of the African-Americans who have died at the hands of law enforcement so they can be remembered.
I thank my dad for his musical influence; it set me on an eclectic path that led me to David Byrne who has always challenged me with his art. I won’t soon forget this show and its fascinating concoction of musical theater. Not quite the same as it ever was.