Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

By Damon Mazer

Broadway was an odd place to see David Byrne. When I listen to Talking Heads, I picture a little punk club or something of that ilk, not an exquisite theater right off Times Square. Byrne didn’t fit in, but he stood out. In the bland, repetitive world of Broadway shows, “American Utopia” was a breath of fresh air. It was truly unpredictable, and even without the connection to Byrne and his old group, I think it would still receive the praise it’s gotten. It’s a visual marvel and one of the most emotionally potent concerts out there.
Having been disappointed in missing the show when it first toured in 2018, I fought tooth and nail to find tickets, and barely succeeded.

The most significant aspects of the show were the staging and the band themselves. Everything was a flat grey, from the mat on the floor, to the identical suits the band was wearing and the shimmering drapery that surrounded the stage.

The band was unplugged, but not in the acoustic sense. Everyone was mic’d, but there were no wires or amps anywhere on stage. The authenticity of the performance was apparently a source of contention between Byrne and some music journalists when the band first toured. All the music was live, and the band took the opportunity to prove it, building up “Born Under Punches” piece by piece as Byrne introduced each member.

The show was surprisingly similar to a marching band performance. The keyboardist and percussionists carried their instruments on chest harnesses, performing with an astounding level of agility, I might add. I can barely rock back and forth with a guitar, let alone do the jumping, running, and dancing these musicians took part in, barefoot, and apparently unburdened by their equipment. The band and Byrne often moved into what we would call “sets” in marching band, or specific formations on stage, both static and dynamic, making my balcony seats more than worth it. These “sets” also worked in tandem with the show’s lighting, which was simple, but mesmerizing. A notable example is during “Blind”, when a flood light was placed center stage, casting a towering shadow of Byrne on the backdrop, along with smaller shadows of the rest of the band dancing around him.

David Byrne himself was effortlessly endearing. He was very talkative, stopping every few songs to deliver short, but insightful monologues about his music, the show and politics. Unlike a number of musicians, these monologues didn’t feel indulgent. He didn’t spend too much time describing the meaning and background of the show, simply stating that it was “about you and us”. There was something about the way he spoke. It felt friendly, like he was happy to see us all, which drew me into the show more.
Of course, the music was excellent. The set consisted of both Talking Heads classics and a satisfying selection of tracks from David Byrne’s solo endeavors, including a beautiful rendition of “Glass, Concrete & Stone”, a personal favorite. The nature of the show meant that most of these songs couldn’t be played with their original instrumentation, which wasn’t a negative at all. About half of the band were percussionists and every member sang backup vocals, so everything felt weightier, especially the Talking Heads tracks. “I, Zimbra” hit like a train. I’ve listened to “Once In A Lifetime” and “Road to Nowhere” hundreds of times in my life, but they were more impactful than ever, and I think the crowd shared that sentiment, as they couldn’t help but get up and dance as much as they could, despite how tight seating was.

A surprising inclusion was the autobiographical “I Should Watch TV”, the only track in the set from “Love This Giant”, Byrne’s collaborative record with St. Vincent. Not only is it one of Byrne’s best, it had the most striking visuals of any track in the set. It encapsulates what makes the show work so well. Byrne stood at one end of the stage, with a single, powerful blue light being cast from behind the backdrop, to simulate a lonely, dark night sat in front of the T.V. The rest of the band spent the song slowly encroaching towards him; a blunt, yet effective representation of the crushing isolation a life in front of a screen can bring.

All of the “How did he get here?” jokes people have been throwing around aside, “American Utopia” feels like the culmination of Byrne’s career up to this point and a testament to his incredible knowledge in the not so simple art of putting on a great show.

"American Utopia" runs through Feb. 16 at The Hudson Theater in Manhattan. For ticket info, visit


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