Photo credit: Ralph Freso for azcentral.com
Stop Making Sense is on my Top 10 list of all-time favorite albums…as it is for many other people, I’m sure. My big bro introduced me to the Talking Heads when I was in high school, and while I enjoyed their music, I did not fully appreciate the artistry and genius of David Byrne until much later in my life.
The Talking Heads had it ALL….great music, distinct percussion, lyrics, performance art, and his unique voice. And Byrne’s collaboration with Brian Eno combined two of the greatest musical genius minds and talents of our time. Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall during one of their conversations? Can you even imagine the ideas that they must toss around?
Stop Making Sense was my initiation to Byrne’s artistry. And since I never saw the live show, experiencing it through the Jonathan Demme movie was the next best thing, and maybe better because in those days I could not afford the good seats at concerts. I still listen to that album often as it remains one of my all-time favorites and I always prefer live recordings – it is also the perfect accompaniment for a good workout at the gym. Little Creatures was released not too long after that, and it was quickly added to my play list. I can listen to both of those albums now, and they still sound contemporary and interesting – not like much of the music that came out of the 80’s. Talking Heads music is just so…timeless.
Until this year, I had never seen David Byrne perform live. The closest I had ever gotten was viewing his Big Suit from the “Stop Making Sense” tour at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But I recently saw his “American Utopia” show at my favorite local Arts venue – and it could not have been a better “first time.” The performance was simply extraordinary. Staging, music, choreography, percussion…. Continuous motion, no breaks. And above all, his VOICE. Perfect pitch, strength, clarity. That single show provided me with enough joy to last for months in the future. In a recent interview, DB noted that American Utopia is his most ambitious production since the Stop Making Sense tour. And ambitious it was!
It was a performance like none other I have ever seen….. just as Mr. Byrne intended, I am sure. While I do it a dis-service by even trying to describe it (and many others, including my favorite local music critic, have already given excellent accounts of the show), to help with visualization, it was a combination of full-ensemble dance performance mixed with a drum line, a graceful marching band, outstanding vocals, story-telling, musical theatre. The entire company wearing gray suits (normal size, not BIG) and bare feet as they maneuvered around the empty stage, ever so smoothly. The graceful ensemble carried their drums, keyboard, guitars, untethered by cables, as they moved in synchronized motion. Each performer was highlighted at some point, and all demonstrated their collective talents as musicians, dancers, and singers throughout the performance. Above all, Byrne’s inimitable strong, clear, engaging voice that stays with you. And the percussion….oh, the percussion. The audience could not help but move with the beat, whether sitting or standing, although most were standing throughout the performance. The new album, American Utopia, may take a couple of listens to comprehend, but it is outstanding and most of the tracks were included in the show. Several Talking Heads favorites were also peppered throughout, including Once in a Lifetime” (my personal fave), “Slippery People”, and “Burning Down the House”. The show’s finale was a powerful rendition of Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout” that left the audience members feeling that they had just experienced something much bigger than any one of us. And we had. Collective joy.
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