Making connections face to face is better
By Jerrison Oracion, Senior Columnist
It has a contemporary dance look, and the set is almost empty with just him, two dancers, and his band.
Talking Heads are being heard a lot in the year 2020. Earlier last summer, I watched the concert film that they made—Stop Making Sense directed by Jonathan Demme—showing the band at its peak and how they might have inspired Arcade Fire. The band’s songs were also heard in various commercials for shows on Amazon Prime Video.
When I watched David Byrne (the former lead member of the band) perform on Saturday Night Live in February, I thought that the band was reuniting; instead it featured the musical, American Utopia, that he made and was performing on Broadway. The musical—which is based on Byrne’s recent solo album of the same name—had a limited run and ended a month before the coronavirus pandemic began. While the musical may possibly be performed again next year depending on what happens with the pandemic, Spike Lee was able to film a performance of it and the film version of the musical aired on HBO last month on October 17.
I do not know a lot about the history of Talking Heads but watching it was like watching a Paul McCartney concert after he abandoned The Beatles, like Byrne may have abandoned his band. The musical is a lecture where Byrne talks about connections as well as the major events that are happening right now—especially on Donald Trump and African Americans. It has a contemporary dance look, and the set is almost empty with just him, two dancers, and his band.
All of them wear the signature suit that Byrne wears in his concerts with Talking Heads and the entire cast is diverse: one of the bongo players in the band, Stephane San Juan, is from Toronto. Byrne is also a naturalized citizen who immigrated from Scotland. The musical additionally has songs from the band, Byrne’s solo career, and a cover of a song by Janelle Monáe. The band’s songs as well as Byrne’s solo music have an alternative sound combined with a Caribbean beat, much like world fusion music.
At times, the cast would perform in a chorus line before suddenly stopping and then dancing with no music. There were sections in the musical which tackled topics that were powerful and I will delve deeper into them in a future story.
In Stop Making Sense, the set of the concert is being built as it progresses—slightly similar to American Utopia where the drapes are lifted near the end of it. There were moments in both films where Byrne would stumble and sing near a lightbulb. Before and after performances, Byrne and the rest of the cast would cycle to and from their apartments to the theatre.
American Utopia is available on HBO Max and Crave.