If we can’t go to gigs right now, then former Talking Heads front-man and supreme solo artist David Byrne brings the band to us, with a little help from Spike Lee. This new joint from the latter captured the former’s 2019 Broadway show American Utopia (a live version of Byrne’s 2018 album). Part-pop extravaganza, part-poetry slam, it’s a wonder to behold.
Byrne appears in his signature slick grey suit, barefoot, capped with that flourish of manicured white hair, and weaves his many spectacular hits, including the anthemic thrill of Once in a Lifetime, with musings on life, love, what divides us and ultimately brings us back together.
To assist, he’s assembled a spectacular array of musicians (and instruments) from all over the world, all dressed in the same attire. Lee nimbly shoots the stripped-back but visually theatrical performance, with a shifting set created by nifty lighting design. Their slick dance moves are choreographed by Annie-B Parson of Brooklyn’s Big Dance Theater, amplifying Byrne’s silken vocals and playful lyrics. Byrne holds us in the palm of his hands. ‘Most of us are immigrants,’ he says, and I got goosebumps when they all take a knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matters, the faces of many slain African-Americans are projected giant-sized behind them, as set to a cover of Janelle Monáe’s Hell You Talmbout.
Then, when all’s said and done, Byrne hops on his bike and rides off into the twinkling New York night. It’s magnetic. Indeed, the only drawback is that it’s such a good gig you really do wish you were there.
Streaming on HBO in the US now, and on VOD in the UK Dec 14. In cinemas in Australia now.