NPR: David Byrne is, of course, the lead singer and frontman of the Talking Heads. The band recorded hit songs like “Psycho Killer,” “Life During Wartime,” “Once in a Lifetime,” “Burning Down the House,” and so many more.
He is also a solo artist in his own right and has recorded instrumental electronic albums, pop records, and spoken word. He’s collaborated with Brian Eno, St. Vincent, Philip Glass, and Selena to name a few. He’s written books, scored soundtracks, even wrote and directed his own movie, 1986’s True Stories.
If you wanted to find a common theme in his work, maybe it’s that David Byrne has always worked to push the boundaries of what pop music can be. While at the same time, he takes high art – the kind of stuff you see in Manhattan galleries or in repertory theaters in Brooklyn – and makes it more accessible and familiar.
American Utopia is his latest project. It started as an album in 2018, then he toured on it with a handful of dates across the U.S. Only, he’s David Byrne, so he went the extra mile and added 12 musicians, all dressed alike in gray suits, carrying their instruments like a marching band and dancing with them. Everything’s also wireless. With nothing binding them to one spot, they can dance and move completely freely. It’s not like any concert you’ve ever seen.
He parlayed the tour into a full on Broadway production, premiering in 2019. Then, American Utopia’s live show became a movie directed by the one and only Spike Lee. That dropped late last year.
If you happen to be in New York, American Utopia will be returning to Broadway on September 17. You can also experience the show on your TV. The concert film is streaming now on HBO Max. It will also be debuting in theaters for the first time on September 15. David Byrne chats with us about American Utopia and his return to playing live music. He also shares some of the music he’s been listening to lately and tells us about where he learned his iconic dance moves. Plus, he’ll tell us why his very different brain powers his art. MORE
PREVIOUSLY: David Byrne — Talking Heads architect and post-New Wave elder statesman of all things arch, artsy and oblique — is the Marcel Duchamp of 20th Century rock n’ roll, transmuting the artifacts of the mundane and the quotidian into magical charms to ward off the confusion, dread and ennui of modern life. He is, in other words, an antidote for our current season in Hell, and his arrival at the Mann last night backed by what is, for lack of a better description, The Greatest Marching Band on Earth, to deliver humane tidings of comfort and joy in the guise of high concept performance art, came not a moment too soon. For the past six months he has been touring the globe in support of his latest album, the archly titled American Utopia, and putting on what I can safely say without fear of exaggeration is, as of this writing, the Greatest Show on Earth. That is not hyperbole, if anything that is an understatement.
In terms of the setlist, the show is an ecstatic blend of modernized takes on Talking Heads quirk-pop classics and the oblique strategies and heartfelt ironies of his post-Heads solo work and collaborations with the likes of Brian Eno, Fatboy Slim and St. Vincent. Which, on paper, sounds fairly pro-forma for an artist of Byrne’s stature and vast back catalog of cutting edge work, but to see it in person, it is nothing short of jaw-dropping — a post-post-modernist miracle of human ingenuity, precision and grace. I call it MOMA-rock: A rapturous marriage of modern dance, minimalist grandeur, shit-hot musicianship, and gorgeous gale-force chorales that sing the body electric — all performed without wires, fixed instruments, pre-recorded backing tracks or shoes. All of it cooked up by the beautiful mind of David Byrne, who, at the onset of his autumn years, with his thick shock of pure white hair, has evolved into a glorious amalgam of Mark Twain and David Lynch — simultaneously folksy and wise and kind and still barefoot in the head after all these years, displaying the tireless vitality and artistic potency of a man a third of his age. MORE