No microphone stands, no drum riser, no video montages, no amp stacks: David Byrne's " American Utopia" (St. James Theatre, NYC, January 8, 2021) was a very high tech and beautifully staged show that totally rethinks how live music should be presented.
Playing just off Broadway, “American Utopia” might be assumed to be a proper musical, with a narrative or least a theme of sorts.
But it was basically a David Byrne solo show, with his blocky dancing and many classics from his days in the Talking Heads. But he went through extraordinary efforts to restage how these songs could be presented, artfully accentuating their meanings and emotions.
Everything had been stripped away from the stage except the necessary performers themselves, who had the room to physically express their music.
At times, the percussive-heavy roving assemblage resembled a fractal marching band, one perfect for Byrne’s herky-jerky songs of modern-day alienation and wonder. Two dancers swept through them, providing further kinetic energy to the space. The backdrop was a simple wall of metal chain links, upon which splashed color hues to match the mood of the music.
The audience looks to the stage to connect to the performer, Byrne said, and the goal of “American Utopia” was to make that connection between these people as pure as possible.
Musical find: “What a Day That Was.”