David Byrne brought his American Utopia Tour to Kingston’s Ulster Performing Arts Center on Saturday, March 10. This was the 6th show on his new tour, which he claimed would be “the most ambitious show I’ve done since the shows that were filmed for Stop Making Sense.” David hired 11 other musicians to create this performance which would “allow everyone to be mobile on an empty stage”. The lack of wires (and lack of shoes) enabled David to create a performance unlike anything he has attempted before.
Audience members entered the venue to see a single table on stage with a model of the human brain atop it. The borders of the stage area were lined with a lightweight, semi-opaque chain which allowed the performers to move through it with ease while also perfectly casting shadows onto it. While not yet apparent, the stage design and lack of wires would allow the performers to move freely about the stage in a way not seen in traditional concerts.
The show started with “Here,” the final track on David’s new album, American Utopia. This was followed by the 2002 track “Lazy,” which he co-wrote with the English House duo X-Press 2. This upbeat change from the first song got the crowd excited as he went into his first Talking Heads cover of the night. The audience all stood at once as the opening beats of “I Zimbra” began to take hold. All six of the percussionists picked by Byrne brought this song to life as they moved back and forth on stage with the tempo and dazzled the crowd with their syncopated melody.
The Talking Heads songs continued as David led the band into “Slippery People,” which features an interesting vocal breakdown towards the end of the song. The covers continued with “I Should Watch TV,” a song featured on the collaboration between David and St Vincent from 2012. As the lights turned red and the performers got into a single line on stage, “Dogs Mind” changed the mood of the show. Three of the drummers moved their instruments up and down to the tempo as the performers slowly moved closer to the stage during this moving piece.
Continuing with tracks from his new release, David took his performers into “Everybody’s Coming to My House” before bringing the crowd to their feet with “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody).” He continued to delight the audience with his classic gyrations as he brought the band into “Once In A Lifetime”. David kept one drummer on stage to perform with him during “Doing The Right Thing.” While performing this new track, the other percussionists were almost hidden behind the edges of the stage, as their instruments were the only thing visible to the crowd.
Before continuing, David told the crowd that they were going to play a song by a “man who goes by the name of Fatboy Slim, who made a wonderful video for this song.” The crowd was delighted as he went into “Toe Jam” before introducing the band to everyone. The Talking Heads classics continued with “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On).” This upbeat gem ended with the stage lights turning off, and when they turned on, each member of the band was lying on stage except for the keyboardist. David stood up as the song began and the rest of the band slowly followed him one-by-one. The highlight of this track was the band dancing silently before the final chorus ended the song.
“Bullet” was one of the most intriguing tracks of the evening. A single lamp containing a naked bulb was brought on stage. This prop contained the only wire to grace the stage all evening and David used this single light source to play with the shadows forming on the back of the stage. The band walked in a clockwise circle around Byrne as he described a bullet slowly entering a body in detail. By the end of the song, he was the only remaining person on stage as the band had been slowly exiting. The circular theme continued with “Everyday is a Miracle” as the band stood in a circle. David faced the audience as the band faced inward until halfway through the song when he moved into the circle, starting a mini conga-line on stage. This silly but upbeat track ended with a patiently executed trust fall before going into the 2001 crowd favorite “Like Humans Do”.
David continued to play with the lights during the hit song “Blind.” This song featured a single light at the front of the stage which cast an enormous shadow of David. The band proceeded to move around in such a way as to exaggerate their shadows on the backdrop and this continued until an incredibly funky drum solo ended the song. The set concluded with the Talking Heads highest-charting single “Burning Down The House.” The energy of the entire show culminated in this performance and the applause was deafening as the band left the stage.
Another Fatboy Slim collaboration started the first encore as David Byrne came out to “Dancing Together” from their musical Here Lies Love. The Talking Heads classic “The Great Curve” finished up the encore with a scorching guitar solo from Angie Swan at the end. To everyone’s surprise, David and the band came out without their grey suit jackets to perform Janelle Monoe’s “Hell You Talmbout.” David and company put all of their might into this rousing encore and there was an apparent sense of satisfaction in performing this for the Kingston audience. David ended the show in his usual fashion by saying, “thank you” in a way that only he can.