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David Byrne's American Utopia tour


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Wednesday I drove down to Boston to see David Byrne on his 'American Utopia' tour.


I don't generally do a lot of reading ahead of time about shows, so didn't know what to expect; I'm fairly into the Talking Heads' catalogue, but don't know much of Byrne's music since then.


To say I was blown away would be an understatement.


The 'set' was, aside from the opening number which involved a table, and a model brain, an empty stage with grey/reflective rain curtains hanging on all three 'walled' sides of the stage.


Byrne and his band, all in matching grey suits, were free to move around the stage as they wished; the guitar and bass were wireless, and the percussion, of which there was plenty, was all hand-held or mounted on marching band style harnesses. The keyboard player had his board going wireless and mounted on one of the harnesses as well.


There was not a single cable or riser or amp on the stage, which enabled the ensemble to move the entire show. The entire show.


The whole thing was choreographed, and even in moments when players' feet weren't moving, they were swaying or otherwise posing. The energy level was just insane.


The music was great; his material off of the new album is quite good (though I have to go back and listen to it now that I've heard a bunch of it live). He played enough Talking Heads material (both hits and deeper cuts) to satisfy anyone, and those tunes felt fresh and alive on stage.


Also, let me circle back to the harnesses. There was no drum kit, just a bunch of musicians playing various pieces of percussion. But damn was it tight. Crisp, powerful, world-funk grooves that felt/sounded like a traps player but was instead coming from six or seven percussionists who are walking/dancing at the same time!


Highlights included:


  • Once In A Lifetime, because man is that just a killer song. In that moment, I felt like I was in Stop Making Sense.
  • Blind, from the album Naked, which just grooves like nothing else. They did this with massively bright footlights shining up at the stage, projecting giant-sized shadows of Byrne and other musicians on the rain curtain at the back of the stage. Really a neat image.
  • A second encore consisting only of a cover of Janelle Monae's Hell You Talmbout (which is a protest song that calls out the names of African Americans who have died in encounters with police).


Bottom line, this was a top-notch band with a top-notch presentation of top-notch material. I could have stayed and listened as long as they wanted to play.


With respect to Byrne (and forumites who are generational peers of his :) ), I wasn't sure how 'exciting' the show would be; I've certainly seen plenty of acts by musicians of similar vintage that feel tired and/or unmotivated and/or are just re-treads of a rock concert trope. This was innovative, new, and just damned amazing. Music, choreography, lighting, sound design, artistic concept all get top marks.


Run don't walk if you get the chance.

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The keyboardist is apparently using a Korg Kross (2?) with a marching band harness. Its a lightweight board, and would work perfectly for keytar players as well.

Was Burning Down The House good as well?

Yamaha MX49, Casio SK1/WK-7600, Korg Minilogue, Alesis SR-16, Casio CT-X3000, FL Studio, many VSTs, percussion, woodwinds, strings, and sound effects.
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