“David Byrne’s American Utopia” is the balm we all need right now.
The dynamic concert film, premiering Saturday on HBO and HBO Max (8 EDT / PDT), is directed by Spike Lee, capturing last year’s hit Broadway production of the same name. The 105-minute film features a mix of favorite Talking Heads songs and songs from Byrne’s 2018 album “American Utopia”, brilliantly performed by Byrne and a group of costumed, barefoot dancers, most of whom perform also pocket instruments.
Throughout the show, the former Talking Heads presented poignant and disarming interludes about the importance of connections, community, immigrants, and voting matters that take on new resonance with the impending presidential election. For Byrne, 68, her experience performing “Utopia” has been as exhilarating as it is to watch.
“People would ask, ‘Don’t you get bored doing the same show every night?’ Not that one, “Byrne says of Zoom.” Everyone feels really good doing the show, it’s hard to explain. The songs, the choreography, everything we do generates that kind of feeling.
Byrne first met Lee at the premiere of the filmmaker’s 1989 racing drama “Do the Right Thing”, and reconnected in 2016 when Byrne appeared in his documentary “Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall “. Lee attended an out-of-town test of “Utopia” in Boston last year and was immediately taken with the show.
“It was just in his wheelhouse,” Byrne says. Like the Talking Heads 1984 concert film “Stop Making Sense”, directed by the late Jonathan Demme, “Utopia” is “an ensemble film. It’s about how all of these people work together or switch places or everyone has a moment in the spotlight. And that’s part of what Spike does too. “
“Utopia” features slightly reworked but still cheerful versions of Talking Heads that will appeal to audiences, including “This Must Be the Place”, “Burning Down the House” and “Road to Nowhere”. But one of the highlights is actually a cover of Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout,” an incendiary protest song in which Byrne and Co. sing the names of black men and women lost in police violence. Lee intersects the performance with photos of the families of the victims and adds more recent names such as Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
“Spike said, ‘We’re going to bring the family members into the theater,'” Byrne said. “The song itself is very moving. And seeing these people whose sons and daughters had been murdered, I just thought, ‘What’s going on in their heads? What a loss these people have. – they had, and how strange it must be to see a white guy of a certain age calling out their child’s name. “I was very moved by this experience. I thought it could’ve turned into, “Oh, that white guy who wants to take it,” but it never seemed to fall into that trap. “
Byrne attended a number of Black Lives Matter bike events in New York City this summer. (Bikes are his preferred mode of transportation, and he was a frequent commuter to the theater during nearly five months of “Utopia.”) But the musician landed in hot water last month when a clip of him online went resurfaced. The promotional video was shot for “Stop Making Sense” in 1984, as Byrne “pondered” and portrayed a number of black and brown journalists. He issued apologies on twitter, calling it “a major error in judgment which showed a lack of real understanding.”
“In retrospect, you look at it and say, ‘What was I thinking? How could I have done that? “Said Byrne.” But rather than trying to get YouTube removed or come up with an excuse, I thought, let me be really transparent and say, ‘I did that. I’m ashamed of that.’ We are all growing, evolving and changing, and hope we can all be understanding in this way. “
Byrne says he hasn’t written any new music inspired by this tumultuous year. (“I feel like I’m still dealing with whatever’s going on and trying to figure out how I’m reacting to it.”) He also didn’t connect to the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. (“I kind of had a sense of what this could be,” he says, watching “I’m thinking of the end of this” on Netflix instead.)
“Utopia” is planned to return to Broadway next September, after theaters reopen next summer. But in the meantime, he’s focusing on his Reasons to Be Cheerful project, which started out as “self-therapy” and promotes positive news. And he works tirelessly to encourage people to vote, a right the native of Scotland gained in 2012 when he became a US citizen.
“Not just this year, although this year seems particularly important, but always,” says Byrne. “The turnout is a little shameful. People died for the right to do this. Blacks, women, all kinds of people worked so hard to get it done. And now, to put it bluntly, I don’t. don’t feel like it ”or“ Am I busy that day? ”Your duty is to participate in this country or not to complain. Just close the (expletive). If you don’t vote, forget it. “
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