David Byrne

Ocean First Bank Center, West Long Branch, NJ

David Byrne - American Utopia Tour
OceanFirst Bank Center - West Long Branch, NJ - 9/7/2018
Review and Photos - Rebecca Wolf 

Entering the OceanFirst Bank Center for the David Byrne “American Utopia” tour on September 7, 2018 I have to admit I did not know what to expect. Other than a couple of the Talking Heads most popular songs, particularly “Burning Down the House”, I really did not know much about David Byrne’s music or style. While I still do not know if the performance that evening was reflective of what or how the Talking Heads used to perform, the show I witnessed was energizing, theatrical, unique, and musically robust. 

David Byrne was accompanied by an 11-piece mobile band of musicians, dancers and background singers. However, there was no equipment on stage….no drums, no keyboard, no amps, no microphones. The multiple percussionists and keyboard player carried instruments strapped to their chests. While the stage was free from equipment, the visual activity occurring throughout the show filled the stage to capacity. Instrument-wearing musicians, dancers/background singers, and David Byrne himself danced throughout the performance, in rhythmic choreographed movements. More than a concert, the show was performance art. Barefooted musicians moved their feet, bodies and drumsticks in patterned movements. Activity on the stage fluidly moved from small clusters of musicians, percussionists performing in drum circles, to the group as a whole, all band members performing in a line across the stage, like a choreographed marching band. Everything about the evening felt coordinated, polished and sleek, including the imposing floor-to-ceiling curtains of shiny hanging beads, and the band members’ silver-gray suits and button down shirts.
​​​Byrne began the evening alone,  sitting at a table, surrounded on three sides by the towering bead walls, while holding an oversized brain. I am not sure of the message Byrne was intending to send while paying homage to the brain held in his outstretched hands. However, Byrne has not shied away in the past from using visual props as vehicles for expressing his ideas. A bit of David Byrne research informed me that during his Talking Head tour days, wearing comically enormous suits, to give the look of a small head, was Byrne’s way of expressing that music is often understood by the body before the head. 
As Byrne completed his solo opening of the show, band members began to emerge onto the stage through the wall of beads.  During the course of the show members would slip on and off the stage through the silvery strands. Byrne was occasionally a leader of this large troop, but generally functioned as an equal band member. Everyone knew their role and their position in this musical performance and they coordinated them with precision. While the musicians often showed expressions of joy and excitement during the performance, Byrne generally appeared serious and focused but also impassioned. And, his expressions seemed to fit the mood of the show. With the towering silver beaded walls, the shiny gray suits, the bare stage and the funk-like dance movements, there was a futuristic quality to the performance. 
The audience members at the OceanFirst Bank Center were clearly long time David Byrne and Talking Head fans. Several particularly nostalgic fans seated in front were dressed in the absurdly enormous business suits from David Byrne’s Talking Head tour days. (Don’t we all tend to be nostalgic for when our favorite bands were in their heyday and we were presumably in our “youth”?) Everyone was engaged throughout the performance, cheering and singing along, particularly to the most well-known favorites. Byrne played 21 songs, including 2 encores. Most fans remained until the house lights were raised, which is always the case after a 2 hour show, when fans are rushing to beat each other out of the parking lot. Definitely a sign of a much enjoyed performance!

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