Friday, April 9, 2021

David Byrne American Utopia on Broadway Original Cast Recording 2019

So, if you have HBO, hopefully you've already seen the Spike Lee film of this fine stage presentation. Currently streaming on HBO+ and HBO on Amazon, it is an excellent show. And by show I mostly mean concert, although it is carefully choreographed and includes spoken interludes between songs that do not detract from a killer live performance, and give it a bit more of a theatrical quality than your typical rock concert. Not that David Byrne has ever been particularly typical. 

The song list includes four songs from Byrne's American Utopia 2018 solo release, his most well-received solo outing since the disbanding of Talking Heads. It also contains nine Talking Heads songs and six songs from either his other solo recordings or contributions/duets with other artists, plus one Janelle Monae protest song. So there is something like a 60/40 split between solo career and Talking Heads material.

Byrne, along with Talking Heads, is already responsible for one of the greatest concert films (and soundtracks) of all time, the inimitable Stop Making Sense. That tour was also theatrical in it's presentation, beginning with Byrne on acoustic guitar, accompanied by a boom box, singing Psycho Killer, and then slowing adding band members each song until the entire nine-member troupe is Burning Down The House.

American Utopia is even more theatrical in performance. Alongside Byrne and two dancer/singers, a keyboardist, guitarist, and bassist, and no less than six percussionists/singers (all of whom move around stage in carefully scripted moves by choreographer Annie-B Parson) turn the songs into stunning visual as well as musical theater. The music holds up quite well by itself. The soundtrack eschews the between-song narratives, and presents the songs in their staged order, and it is simply a splendid record. Song selection is close to perfect, with obscurities, or at least less obvious choices, showing up to excellent effect. So not a greatest hits by any stretch, but even better. 

The four songs from the original American Utopia studio release are all highlights, and nothing disappoints. The multiple percussionists make the band extra special. The whole ensemble is talented as heck, and really everything works. Byrne is in a celebratory mood, and positivity is the theme. Even without seeing the show, the soundtrack is excellent. If you've seen the show, it seems indispensable.

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