It is one of those rare and special occurrences when you go into a gig not knowing what will happen, then walk away afterwards in absolute awe and feeling dumbstruck. That’s how I’m feeling after David Byrne’s American Utopia concert at the ICC in Sydney last night. Best described as ‘A moving art installation and aural masterpiece‘, it was a thrill to experience such a unique musical and theatrical performance. It was a true one-off night of ‘nothing you have ever seen before’ and a great initiation into the world of David Byrne. Like the precious golden ticket to the Willy Wonka factory, we were captivated by what our ears could hear, our eyes could see and what our souls could absorb.
We all recognise the brilliance of Byrne’s previous band Talking Heads and his solo work since that time. Who can forget those obscure, yet enticing, music videos that we grew up watching in the 80’s? Musically, lyrically and behaviourally, it all just worked. Talking Heads were like the cool kids in class who did their own thing and didn’t care what anyone else was up to. To say Byrne is still one of those cool kids, is an understatement.
After a thoroughly enjoyable support from the talented and spunky Kimbra, who was the perfect selection to complement our night, the venue was already discussing the slinky silver chain curtain encasing the stage, as it was slowly being lifted and de-kinked. Nature sounds were playing, a lone table and chair, with a replica human brain, sit in the centre, waiting, like we were, for this night of events to begin.
Finally, as the silver chain curtain rises, Byrne is on stage cradling the brain for ‘Here’, our first of many songs from American Utopia, his critically acclaimed album, and now tour. As he paces and engages with the audience, he’s very much involved within the whole space and you can see the constant perusal out towards the enraptured crowd. Slowly, the first two, of eleven band members, take to the stage. They pose and move gracefully until ‘Lazy’, his house music hit with X-Press 2, kicks it up a gear and the remaining musicians join them, dancing and playing. As multiple drums hammer away and continue the momentum, everyone is already grooving in their seats for our first Talking Heads song, ‘I Zimbra’. ‘Slippery People’ is up next and we watch in wonder as each musician glides and sways in perfect sync; the stage is like a private room that we’re allowed to peer into. Choreographed by Annie-B Parson, this show is such a delight from start to finish.
The Byrne/St.Vincent collaboration of ‘I Should Watch TV’ was another favourite moment for me as Byrne dips sideways from the right side of the stage, in a stand-off dance move, while all band members dip and progress towards him. The set list then moves through ‘Dog’s Mind’, ‘Everybody’s Coming To My Place (Naïve Melody)’ and ”This Must Be The Place’. Again, each song and every performance is so different yet blends seamlessly. There are so many stand out moments within each track, it’s a beautiful symmetry of stimulation overload. This is one of those shows that requires its own special release DVD as it’s difficult to convey its magnificence in a review. I loved our treat of ‘Once In A Lifetime’, this is the first music video I clearly remember wondering ‘What is this man doing?’ and yet I really liked it. Oh, those memories of wide eyed innocence, it’s everything you expected, and more, when hearing it live. Byrne sounds and looks fabulous, he’s joyful and content throughout the night, as are all of his stand out band members. This is flawless musicianship, as well as being a lesson in creativity.
From here on, we have ‘Doing The Right Thing’, then the Fatboy Slim collaboration ‘Toe Jam’ and ‘Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)’, until we are lead into the atmospheric and whimsical ‘I Dance Like This’. I loved this live, it had humour and eccentricity, with a dash of Yo Gabba Gabba fun. How this all flows so well into the sombre and poignant ‘Bullet‘ is remarkable. The hopeful ‘Every Day Is A Miracle’ brings us back into the American Utopia songbook until another older Byrne song ‘Like Humans Do’ leads us back out into a new caper. Weaving in and out, this journey was so enthralling. The ICC crowd was lapping up every second of every moment, letting loose and shouting many affectionate phrases to Byrne between songs. There was much idol worshipping from the men and women alike, and rightly so. Not many people could even attempt to pull anything even closely resembling a Byrne show, other than Byrne himself.
Rounding out our main set was a Talking Heads double up of ‘Blind’, which made use of some clever shadowing on stage, followed by another classic of ‘Burning Down The House‘. This first standing ovation was a sight to behold. The whole venue was up in arms, cheering and urging for more… and more they received, as we are gifted another Talking Heads finale of ‘Road To Nowhere’ and ‘The Great Curve’. Both songs were killer and would have been a perfect finish if not for standing ovation number two, and a Janelle Monae cover of the politically stirring ‘Hell You Talmbout‘ to really send us home this last time.
Sydney just couldn’t get enough and well, it won’t be ‘same as it ever was’ as this is some otherworldly type of musical performance. There’s that always satisfied and chuffed feeling you get after gigs but this is one of total privilege. An encore tour of this current show would be delicious and would be a perfect addition to the ‘Sydney Vivid Festival’. I knew, as did every other person there, that we were a part of a very special event which has been permanently etched into our memories as one of the best shows we have ever seen.
Funky, suave, unique and quick witted, the title of genius is not far fetched in this case. David Byrne, you are in a category all of your own!
© MARINA KNEZEVIC 2018. All rights reserved
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