David Byrne Still Makes Sense Performing ‘American Utopia’ at CMAC

Sunday night, David Byrne, best known for being the frontman of Talking Heads, performed at the CMAC in Canandaigua, NY, to perform a mix of his solo work from his recent solo album, American Utopia, and songs from Talking Heads.

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Benjamin Clementine performing last March at Razzmatazz in Barcelona, Spain. PHOTO BY: Gabri Guerrero

Starting the night off right, Byrne’s opening act, Benjamin Clementine, an English avant-garde artist and poet, took the stage and performed seven songs. Only by his side, was a piano, some electronics, and his bass player. Clementine mixed classical elements with experimental pop during his set. The best example of this was his performance of an alternative version of “One Awkward Fish.” He finished his set with the vocally graceful and captivating “I Won’t Complain,” as he and his bassist, sung together while slowly walking around the stage.

A set like this was unpredictable, as Clementine would hit you with some warm chords then suddenly he would erupt. With minimal avant-garde music and a wide vocal range, Clementine’s music is balanced in both a consistent sound full of emotions. Since his music is very sophisticated, just as Leonard Cohen’s, Clementine serves as one of the most versatile and complete artists around today. He was the perfect choice to tour with Byrne, with how both overly eccentric their music can be.

David Byrne opens his American Utopia show performing “Here” while holding a brain. PHOTO BY: WARREN LINHART

After a short intermission, now looking more wise with his immaculate shocking white hair, Byrne took the stage alone, later sitting in a chair in front of a table holding a brain. The pink colored brain is the only speck of color, over a grey, naked stage, enclosed by glimmering beaded curtains. If audience members thought Byrne holding a brain was odd, it wasn’t. The song he performed called “Here,” discusses parts of the cerebellum. Byrne is also known for taking the stage at his shows by himself at first.

All appearing barefoot and in grey wool suits, Byrne’s 11-member band appeared on stage with him and performed his cover of X-Press 2’s “Lazy.” Then as Byrne popped out the first strings to the Talking Heads number, “I Zimbra,” the crowed quickly got up and really began shaking their hips. And this was basically the entire night. Byrne once explained to an interviewer how music can be very physical and how the body reacts before the head. There was even a man dressed in a big suit dancing, but most likely he was sweating his ass off, since it was around 80 degrees and sunny. Byrne did not let his older audience down, by playing the pleasing Talking Heads classics like “Once in a Lifetime” and “Burning Down the House.” Even though Byrne played many of his old hits, he still performed many songs from the Brian Eno co-produced, American Utopia. Usually when an older artist will release a newer album during a tour, they will hardly play anything from it. A great example, is Weezer hardly playing anything off Pacific Dream during their current 2018 summer tour, which just goes to show how bad of an album it is. However, Byrne has maintained his relevancy in the music world with his latest release and past collaborative albums with artists such as Eno and St. Vincent.

The American Utopia songs were just as good as the Talking Heads favorites. One of the more unexpected parts of the night was when Byrne went full-’90s industrial Bowie, during the chorus of “I Dance Like This.” There were also flashing lights in sync with the zapping soundscape during the chorus, which was like seeing a deleted scene from Twin Peaks: The Return.

David Byrne and his 11-member band performed a mix of Byrne’s solo work and songs from Talking Heads. PHOTO BY: WARREN LINHART

Seeing the stage was like looking through a microscope and watching organisms moving in clumps, dancing, and posing while on a plain gray minimal stage. Jumping from heavy funk, covers, and collaborations, Byrne even brought politics into his show, but it was not as radical as people might assume. Byrne encouraged younger people between the age of 18-29 years old, to vote and said, “We can’t call ourselves a democracy if we don’t fucking turn up.” Closing the show, Byrne did a rendition of Janelle Monáe’s 2015 protest anthem, “Hell You Talmbout,” which addressed the brutality from law enforcement and radical violence towards African-Americans. The performance, especially while naming the victims of the deceased was hypnotic and theatrical, as it could have just kept going and going. It was so enchanting, you were lost in the moment.

With how amusing and perfectly choreographed the show was, experiencing Byrne’s 2018 tour is not far from experiencing the Hollywood Pantages Theatre shows in 1983, which those performances were featured in the influential concert film, Stop Making Sense. For an artist such as Byrne, who has been in the music business for over 40 years, it is unexpected, but inspiring how an older artist such as him can maintain connection and influence still through his music and mesmerizing live shows. When the musicians would rearrange themselves and proceed in circles, it was like witnessing a marching band cult in the woods, with Byrne as their leader. This was no ordinary concert. It was an unprecedented religious experience, where everyone danced splendidly. In 2018, it all still makes sense.

Benjamin Clementine @ CMAC Setlist 8/5/2018:

  1. Ave Dreamer
  2. Phantom of Aleppoville
  3. One Awkward Fish
  4. London
  5. Adios
  6. Condolence
  7. I Won’t Complain

David Byrne @ CMAC Setlist 8/5/2018: 

  1. Here
  2. Lazy
  3. I Zimbra (Talking Heads song)
  4. Slippery People (Talking Heads song)
  5. I Should Watch TV (David Byrne and St. Vincent cover)
  6. Dog’s Mind
  7. Everybody’s Coming to My House
  8. This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) (Talking Heads song)
  9. Once in a Lifetime (Talking Heads song)
  10. Doing the Right Thing
  11. Toe Jam (The Brighton Port Authority cover)
  12. Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) (Talking Heads song)
  13. I Dance Like This
  14. Bullet
  15. Every Day is a Miracle
  16. Like Humans Do
  17. Blind (Talking Heads song)
  18. Burning Down the House (Talking Heads song)

Encore 1:

  1. Dancing Together
  2. The Great Curve (Talking Heads song)

Encore 2:

  1. Hell You Talmbout (Janelle Monáe cover)

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