David Byrne Burns Down the House at the Ryman
David Byrne is a well-accomplished musician whether you know him from his beginnings as the frontman for New York art rock band the Talking Heads, his extended solo career, or his various collaborations including artists such as Brian Eno, Fatboy Slim, and St. Vincent. After the Talking heads disbanded in 1991, Byrne decided to embark on a solo career recording 12 albums as well as creating numerous compositions for both theatre and film. Although many legacy acts like to make reunion tours and cash in on the fans’ nostalgia, he refrains from doing so and prefers to keep looking forward as he tries to explore new sounds. Aside from his music career, he is also a writer and director.
Byrne released American Utopia on March 9, 2018, making it his most recent solo album in 14 years. During the short duration of 37 minutes the album questions the state of where society is and brings the hope of living in a better society in the future. As with some of his older albums, the rhythm section in American Utopia plays a big role on the overall sound of the album, featuring rhythms from parts of Africa and Brazil. The album manages to perfectly balance dark themed songs with more optimistic ones.
Not only does Byrne tries to stay on the vanguard with his music but he also approaches his live performances with the same mindset, and to prove so he decided to make an 80 dates tour which he proclaimed as his most ambitious tour to date. During his show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, Byrne unsurprisingly sold out the venue and proceeded to drive the crowd wild with his performance. Byrne’s setlist contained songs from his solo catalog as well as classics from the Talking Heads performed in a different way to fit his live instrumentation. Since the moment he hit the stage everyone stood up and started dancing and singing, and after he finished his set the audience kept clapping, stomping their feet, and begging him to come back for an encore set. Byrne responded to the audience's acclaim by playing two encore sets.
The stage had chainmail-like curtains on both sides of the stage and the back. Everything in the stage had a muted gray motif, from the stage flooring to the walls, and the musicians’ outfits. While it is risky to have such amount of homogeneity on stage Byrne does it with a purpose. His main purpose for that is to help the audience focus better on the music and for the small details to become more noticeable. The choreography was precise as the band moved around the stage and created formations and shadow play against the back wall with the help of stage lights making it appear as if Byrne was some sort of giant while the rest of the members were tiny people. The number of musicians on stage varied all the way from one to twelve depending on the song. The live band consisted of percussionists, keyboard player, guitarist, bass player, and backup singers/dancers all barefooted and wearing the same grey suit. Instead of having instruments mounted on stage Byrne opted for making the band wear their instruments in marching band style mounts to allow better mobility. One of the most impressive things was that the stage was completely empty except for the musicians and occasional lamps they brought on stage for certain songs. There were no speakers or cables in sight as everything was hooked up wirelessly.
David Byrne’s American Utopia live production is something that not everybody could pull off due to its high level of complexity but Byrne and his team make it seem effortless. This is a tour that everyone should go out and see if given the chance even if they are not familiar with his material. The show is arranged in such a manner that it does not only feel as a concert but also as a theatrical experience making it in something truly unique.
Coverage by Jorge Sierra
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