Documentary Music Musical

David Byrne’s American Utopia

A psychedelic concert movie through the eyes of David Byrne.

You may find yourself in front of a computer or TV screen.

And you may find yourself coming across a concert film.

And you may find yourself seeing David Byrne of Talking Heads fame performing.

And you may find yourself on a beautiful couch.

With a beautiful wife or husband.

And you may find yourself asking, well,

Why is CJ doing this song reference in this review?

Because this would be, dare I say it, a “Once in a Lifetime” reference for me, since I’m reviewing a concert movie written, produced, and starring Byrne. And it’s my all-time favorite Talking Heads song.

The opening shot of “David Byrne’s American Utopia” features Byrne holding a fake human brain, and asks the audience about how it functions. “Are babies smarter than we know?” and “Do we lose those connections when we grow older?” But his real questions are who, what, where, and why? It sets the mood and style of the movie, which I’ve viewed at the New York Film Festival online.

Spike Lee filmed a Broadway performance of Byrne’s “American Utopia” album, in which the musician was joined by 11 other musicians (Daniel Freedman, Chris Giarmo, Tendayi Kuumba, Bobby Wooten III, Karl Mansfield, Gustavo Di Dalva, Jacquelene Acevedo, Angie Swan, Mauro Refosco, and Stephanie San Juan) to bring the songs to stage at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre. They all wear the same matching grey suits in front of chain curtains. The songs they perform on stage include “Lazy,” “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody),” “Once in a Lifetime,” and Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On),” and they perform them with psychedelic choreographies.

Hearing David Byrne’s singing voice should remind fans why they love Talking Heads, and hearing him speak is quite exhilarating in the ways he expresses his aspects of life and how it functions, as well as his interpretive perspectives of his songs. I didn’t understand everything in his monologues, but his visions and styles keep things moving in an upbeat path.

There’s a musical segment in the film that proves it’s a Spike Lee movie. Byrne and the cast perform their own cover of Janelle Monae’s protest song “Hell You Talmbout,” which pays tribute to the innocent African-American people, who were murdered by law enforcers and racial violence. “Say His Name” goes through your head, and that’s important respectful for the likes of Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Freddie Gray, among many others, and even George Floyd’s name gets added to the tribute.

“David Byrne’s American Utopia” is a fresh, lively, and outspoken concert film for fans of Talking Heads. It’s full of life and dance, and the covers of the classic hits should make people singing and dancing in their seats. It’s simply impossible to not enjoy the music, and the musicians who share them on stage. See it for yourselves.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

On HBO Max This Saturday

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