It’s Saturday night at Margaret Court Arena. David Byrne walks on stage and sits down on a wooden chair at a table with a pink brain model on top. He picks up the brain and starts singing Here from his latest album American Utopia. He walks around the stage holding the brain like a science teacher trying to explain the inside of a brain to his students. This can’t be real. Am I dreaming? Where is he taking us?
The Talking Heads frontman is here in Australia to finish his world tour American Utopia. The shows are filled with art, dance, confronting theatre and music. “This is the most ambitious show I’ve done since the shows that were filmed for Stop Making Sense” Byrne tweeted before his world tour started. Byrne and his 12-piece band are here to give us Aussie fans an unforgettable night.
The Scottish-American singer and his band are dressed in grey suits with bare feet. The band are wirelessly carrying their instruments around like a marching band. The stage features ceiling to floor grey fringed walls. Lazy starts playing and the people in my area on the floor are standing. We start dancing to the music and the people behind us and next to us tell us all to sit down because they can’t see the stage. Joy killers! Don’t worry, we plan to dance all night long. I Zimbra gets a few more people moving. We’re getting there! Slippery People comes on and finally the whole arena are on their feet. It’s about time!
After I Should Watch TV, the man of the hour and his band come forward and the 66-year-old talks about the election that happened that day. He congratulates the audience on our mandatory voting and how not a lot of the American population vote saying that the percentage is “sometimes as low as 20%”. He then adds some humour in the end “if you didn’t vote, I hope the fine finds you!”
He then shares another anecdote, before Everybody’s Coming to My House. He talks about how a school choir in Detroit did an interpretation of the song and how it was a completely different meaning to his. Byrne shares how his song was originally about how much anxiety he felt about people coming to his house but the children’s version of the song was more welcoming as he admits to the crowd “their version’s better than mine!”
One of my favourite songs This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody) is playing and it’s another tingling moment. Being in the audience and hearing one of your favourite songs live is a special feeling. Once in a Lifetime! Another one of my favourites. Byrne starts the song running around the stage like a lunatic with the same dance moves as the songs’ music video with the spotlight shining on him. “And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack. And you may find yourself in another part of the world” Everyone in the crowd is smiling from ear to ear and laughing to themselves probably thinking “this is too good!” As the chorus jumps in, the band appear and are walking in a horizontal line like a marching band.
The band really are remarkable and their leader shows this when he introduces them one by one as they slowly build up the next song Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On). The white haired man holding up his arms and looking at his hands singing “Take a look at these hands!” Classic! I Dance Like This comes on and to my left there are a group of middle aged women micking the dance movements of David Byrne getting every glimpse they can of him from the flashing lights.
During Bullet, a lamp is dragged onto the stage and after the song the lamp is dragged off the stage and darkness falls onto everyone, literally and figuratively as an overhead shot of the stage is shown on the screen with a photo of a torso with a hole that has been pierced from a bullet is shown over the stage and Byrne as he stood still leaving a chilling astonishment in the air.
Burning Down the House comes on and Byrne is strumming his red guitar up and down the stage. A man up on the balcony in the audience takes his white shirt off and throws it into the crowd screaming for more along with the rest of us.
The first encore arrives with another Talking Heads favourite Road To Nowhere where some of the band along with Byrne sing the a Capella start of the song with the spotlight shining on them. Byrne is weaving his way through the band during the chorus and later they’re marching around the stage in a circle. The next song The Great Curve features guitarist Angie Swan, she kills the guitar solo as Byrne is off to the left dancing in his true form and later reveals his sweaty vest.
The second and final encore was a real treat. Byrne and his band alongside Kimbra who supported them with a unique performance performed Hell You Talmbout a protest song by Janelle Monáe. A song that lists the names of African Americans who have died because of law enforcement and racial violence in the U.S. It was a great way to end a show politically.
Is it possible to mix art, theatre, dance and music in a rock show? Yes. David Byrne proves to us once again how powerful you can be when you put your creative mind to it. The crowd leaves the arena in wonderment. They leave behind the stage theatrics of synchronised dancing, silhouetted lighting, a display on the stage of an image of a bullet hole in a human’s torso, the band dynamics and Byrne’s artistic genius influence. It’s something we’ll be talking about for weeks to come.
Written by Alicia Ogley
Images by Monique Pizzica