Concert Review with PHOTOS: David Byrne


By Megan Moss

Artist: David Byrne

Date / Venue: Saturday November 17th, 2018 - Spark Arena, Auckland

David Byrne’s GLORIOUS American Utopia Tour hit Auckland’s Spark Arena Saturday night, a show I’ve eagerly been awaiting since the announcement.

Truthfully I am wondering where to start with this piece; how to express enough enthusiasm to give justice to Byrne and everyone else involved, from his cameraman, through to sound and lighting, to the band themselves.

It was a stunning all-encompassing and rhythmically moving production, which rightly deserves much praise.

‘Once in a lifetime…’ (well, hopefully more than once), you get the opportunity to see a show such as this, and be prompted in the right way to ask yourself, ‘How did I get here?’

I’d happily leave the review at that, however there is simply too much to talk about. I could easily blabber a load of hand flappy adjectives, but it would simply be disrespectful.  

As the arena filled, the audience chatted quietly yet expectantly, the lights dimmed and support Kimbra made her entrance, (taking the stage for the second time in New Zealand this year). Wearing a beautiful full length yellow ruffle dress, Kimbra exudes everything beautiful about the female of the species. Stunning in appearance Kimbra performed a mixed setlist to an appreciative crowd under dim yet beautiful lights.

Kimbra initially struck me as an unexpected choice to support someone as quirky as David Byrne. It turned out to be a beautiful, peaceful warm up for Byrne and his 11-member band. Her set captivated, though the sound was not as on-point as the main act at times, however we thoroughly enjoyed her performance.

After a short break for changeover the house-lights were lowered considerably, yet not entirely; enough to discern a small table and chair and a large plastic human brain sitting under a dim spotlight. There are no instruments, or other props, only a bleak empty stage, surrounded only by a beautiful textured chain-mail curtain. This, Byrne and his band would back in and out of during the show, casting fascinating effects throughout. It would also be used for stunning shadow play during such songs as Bullet. The chattering of the audience was quickly silenced as the final house lights were turned off and the arena blacked out.

Soft sounds played; birds, strings, drums, all building slowly as a bright white line appeared from the bottom of the stage moving upwards…oh my heart it was a beautiful entrance!

The light, still spreading upwards, slowly reveals Byrne sitting alone in a grey suit, barefoot at the table, holding up the brain on the bleak lonely stage. Byrne’s voice rang clearly, unmistakeable, on-point, above the audience cheering their welcomes.

The emotion in the room could be felt everywhere; gradually building up the song Here, Byrne, alone on stage pointed out the different areas of the brain, simple, beautiful, the visuals stunning. This is live audio-visual art at its finest.

He is joined on stage later in the song by Tendayi Kuumba and Chris Giarmo, then the rest of the 12-piece line-up entered one by one during Lazy and I Zimbra, all dressed in matching grey suits and barefoot themselves.

The table was removed, the sounds of each song differing from the one before, the bleak stage became alive with bodies. Nobody was the centre of attention and everybody was the centre of attention. The choreography, and simultaneous use of basic light, was stunning. With the choreography reminiscent of a marching band formation, but with faaaaaaaar better music; never dull.

As Byrne lead into Everybody’s Coming to My House, David spoke of giving the song to a high-school band from Michigan, Detroit earlier this year. Although he had written and recorded the song himself he gave them the freedom to interpret and arrange the song however they wanted. He admitted jovially his version may be “A little er….anxious,” gleaning appreciative laughter from an arena packed with fans who obviously appreciate the quirky nervous side of his disposition and music. The idea of everyone coming over to his house was a little too much it seemed for David. He went on to comment that not only did they nail the track, they managed to turn it into a song about inclusion and that was how the song, ‘Should have been made.”

Over the course of the evening, I shed tears, danced, sang along, whooped and hollered, we were expertly jolted from one emotion to another, I experienced utter musical euphoria, and we were challenged to be aware and thoughtful and to remember and speak up carefully and with compassion.  

Throughout, I was struck by what an amazing and competent showmanship Byrne and his whole band exhibit. I’m sure everybody there, no matter where their place in the arena, felt connected.

On stage they all looked like a happy family. Healthy, and completely present, especially when you consider they have been on the road for many months. All members interacted with the audience to make every corner of the barren stage come alive with something interesting. A melting pot of 12 extraordinary performers and possibly the best example I’ve seen of that level of live percussion since Lenny Castro visited Auckland with Joe Bonamassa a few years back.

On completion of Burning down the House the band waved their goodbyes and after a few bows, left the stage. The audience completely amped by the Talking Heads favourite stamped and clapped for more. The band returned for the first of their two encores, performing Road to Nowhere and The Great Curve. More bows, more waving, they leave again to return to perform a song I’d like to draw special attention to.

The last song of the night, David and his band performed a fiercely passionate and thought-provoking performance of Hell You Talmbout as their final encore. The song (originally written and performed by Janelle Monae), protests black American youths killed and suffering violence at the hands of US authorities and police. David and his stunning ‘melting pot’ stood boldly shoulder to shoulder at the front of the stage, loudly, tribally, stamping, chanting; calling out to the Auckland audience “Say their names! Say their names! Say their names!”

Sadly, the introduction which explained the importance of the song; the names, its history, the lyrics, seemed to have been lost on us kiwis and just didn’t click. Forgive us, we kiwis are fortunate to live in a country where that level of brutality is not as common a theme in our day to day, all due respect, sometimes we are also well, just too dam PC for our own good! So we didn’t respond the way we should have to the wild gesturing from the band to, “Say those names!”

Freddie Gray! Sandra Bland! Trayvon Martin!

Mind Blown, I am grateful to have this experience.

David Byrne Setlist:

  1. Here

  2. Lazy

  3. I Zimbra

  4. Slippery People

  5. I Should Watch TV

  6. Dog’s Mind

  7. Everybody’s Coming To My House

  8. This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)

  9. Once In A Lifetime

  10. Doing The Right Thing

  11. Toe Jam [Brighton Port Authority cover]

  12. Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)

  13. I Dance Like This

  14. Bullet

  15. Every Day Is A Miracle

  16. Like Humans Do

  17. Blind

  18. Burning Down The House

  19. Encore 1: Road To Nowhere

  20. Encore 1: The Great Curve

  21. Encore 2: Hell You Talmbout (Janelle Monáe cover)