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David Byrne’s ‘American Utopia’ goes from stage to living room – Entertainment & Life – MetroWest Daily News, Framingham, MA




Here’s a simplified version of how “David Byrne’s American Utopia” moved from album to scene to movie. Byrne, the former front man of Talking Heads, released his solo album “American Utopia” in 2018. He went on tour with a band to promote it. At some point during the tour, he started to think about the Talking Heads 1984 concert film “Stop Making Sense”, which evolved from the band’s 1983 tour to promote the album “Speaking in Tongues”. Byrne had the idea that maybe “American Utopia” would work as a movie too. So, he developed the concert into a live performance, took it out on the road to troubleshoot and prepare it for a run on Broadway, and reached out to Spike Lee to direct it into a movie.

Now, the combined creative vision of Byrne and Lee is coming to television, premiering October 17 on HBO.

Whether or not you are a David Byrne / Talking Heads fan doesn’t matter, as the film of the concert’s stage presentation is an inspired and entertaining production. It’s a nonstop performance, made up mostly of Byrne’s catchy, often idiosyncratic pop music. This is by no means a collection of Talking Heads greatest hits. Some of them are in the almost two-hour set (“Once in a Lifetime”, “Burning Down the House”, “Road to Nowhere”), but there are also lesser known tunes from the Heads catalog, a few- a few of Byrne’s solo career – up to “American Utopia” – and a few covers.

Lee had seen the show several times while it was being shaped on the road, and had seen a lot more of it on Broadway, so when he brought his cameras near the end of his run last February, he knew exactly where to place them. , including on the ceiling, just above the stage.

Byrne opens the proceedings with his recluse, seated at a table, holding a plastic model brain, singing “Here”, the last track from the album “American Utopia”. Soon he is joined by two other performers, both singers, both like Byrne, dressed in gray suits and barefoot. The set list is running, with “I Know Sometimes a Man Is Wrong” from Byrne’s “Rei Momo” album.

More and more artists, in gray suits and bare feet, are joining them on stage. Some sing, others play instruments, many do both; all are involved in various forms of choreography, be it dancing, swinging or walking.

What they all have in common is that they are not attached to anything at all. There are no cords plugged into the instruments, nor any visible amplifier. Everything – vocal microphones included – is radio controlled. Each performer is completely free, able to move freely on the stage … and on and off the stage, steadily passing back and forth through the beaded curtains on three sides of it.

There is another song with Byrne alone, sometimes he plays guitar, sometimes he is without an instrument. Then he is joined again by all these other singers and players. Lighting and stage design is kept simple. The aural design ranges from full group percussive accompaniment to Byrne addressing the audience with amiable chatter, talking about a song he has just done or is about to do, adding part of his own. musical history or a few select socio-political comments. He is a gracious host.

The songs keep coming: “Don’t worry about the government”, “Everyone comes to my house”, “Every day is a miracle”. Most are optimistic and positive. One is sad. A couple can be described as angry. (Byrne’s cover of Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout” is full of rage.)

Spike Lee gets things done with many cameras and many angles, but Byrne, his music, and his musicians are the stars of the show. His closest, “One Fine Day”, from his collaboration album with Brian Eno “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today”, with its glorious and harmonious a cappella vocals, is a perfect way to end. In other words, until everyone roared in the happy reminder of “Road to Nowhere”.

“David Byrne’s American Utopia” airs on HBO on October 17 at 8 p.m.

Ed Symkus can be reached at [email protected]

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