David Byrne’s American Utopia – A Review

I have been amped for this from day 1. 

When the original album came out, I was kind of meh on it. It had some great tracks and good production, but there was alot of kind of…filler on that album. 

But the tour is ALWAYS a must go. David Byrne puts on a different show every single time. The first time I saw him was very much euro beat, with some strings. Another time was almost all strings. Then it was big synths. Etc. He changes the composition of his band constantly. 

I had heard he had pulled out all the stops and was doing a big stage production this time around. I had tickets and was going to go when he comes through town. Unfortunately, my son got sick. So I stayed home. 

I considered it a life regret…..till this trailer dropped. I knew David Byrne had improved the show further on tour and was doing a broadway thing. 

But, I did NOT expect this to be directed, by one of my all time favorite directors, Spike Lee.  He hadn’t done much in the way of concert stuff, but he knows how to direct a film. 

So, i waited with bated breath. 

And HOLY SHIT did everyone knock it out of the park. 

Lets get one thing out of the way:

You can skip the live recording. It’s not the live recording of this show (or set of shows intercut, unclear). But it was made way before the film was even shot. And it has…odd mixing. The vocals are HOT. You can listen to it, cause its this show. But its truely methadone to this film’s heroin. 

K, now onto the review. 

This is a MUST watch. Especially for the current world. Alot has been made to compare this to Stop Making Sense. I think that’s a fools errand. Stop Making Sense is truly a concert doc in the traditional sense. Demme knows he had (at least my pick) the greatest band of all time. And he wanted to capture that. David Byrne had thrown in interesting artistic elements throughout, but as a cohesive whole….the concert itself doesn’t say anything. Other than Talking Heads is the greatest band in the world at that point. 

There is even debate among the band members of what the song order or the whole message was. Genius of Love was just shoved into there so David can get in the big suit. I want to be clear. I love Stop Making Sense and as a recording, it’s a better thing all the way through. 

David Byrne’s American Utopia is something entirely different. Truthfully, I think it is REALLY helped by the David Byrne interstitials. I have seen the man live seven times, and this is the most talking he has EVER done. If you took all the words he said to the crowd in each of those shows and added it up, American Utopia has more by triple. 

And i think it really enhances it. The songs tell a story of how he feels we could be heading and his discource explains how they got there with the show. Its facinatingly meta. 

Thats the difference. Stop Making Sense is a concert. American Utopia is a true art piece. 

Lets combine all this with a fucking TIGHT band. It doesn’t have the giant musicianship of some of the Talking Heads bands, but it overwhelmingly makes up for it in being well rehearsed and put together. I don’t know who came up with the arrangements, but I feel like this is a combination of different ways hes played these songs over the year. And the band kills it. I really want to highlight Angie Swan on guitar. Completely crushes those Belew type tones ontop of Mauro Refosco’s percussion line.

And they got to do all this while DANCING. And man when it comes together, its something to behold. Take one of my favorite Byrne song’s, I Should Watch TV. The sort of artificial lighting that blasts on the band as well as the “tv screen” on the other side of the chain fence. With the band lunging toward David Byrne as the song goes on. You really get that anxiety that builds in alot of David’s songs. 

Lastly, I have to talk about Spike Lee‘s direction. Spike’s directed music before, but its not really his milleu. Well, the man should direct more music more often. He gets these exceptionally tight angles that must have been super annoying for the crowd, but the results are magnificant. He makes sure the performances can’t be ignored with a constantly in motion camera, following the stage direction as it goes along. Its sort of the opposite of a Demme static camera long takes. We have alot of cross cuts, and alot of joining the motion. 

Overall, I think they have some special magic here, and its easily the best film I have seen this year (even though I am not sure that is much of an achievement). If you even have half a curiosity watch it. You may feel better by the end. 

4/4 – They really should just release another album of the live show thats just this audio mix. It really is that much better. 

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