Monday, October 19, 2020

This Week in Apocalypse Video--David Byrne's American Utopia

I don't know about you, but I really miss Broadway. I know I won't be seeing it until at least sometime next summer. If you miss theater, this is the closest you'll get for quite some time If you love music, you will love this. If you love people, you will love this. It's filmed by Spike Lee, and he does a remarkable job of catching things you'd miss even from a front row orchestra seat.

Byrne starts out simply. He intersperses the songs with bits of dialogue. He tells us the things that most attracts our eyes are other people. We certainly see people on the largely bare stage. He's got a hugely talented band, collected from all over America, North and South. Byrne's interest in Latin American music is longstanding, and the half-dozen percussionists he's gathered on the stage reflect it.

You'll be drawn to this band, obviously enjoying every moment on this stage. You won't be able to take your eyes off of the joyous female backup singer, and director Spike Lee turns to her repeatedly just in case. In fact, you see a whole lot more here than you'd see if you were in the theater. (The keyboard player looks suspiciously like Mike Mulgrew, but I doubt he's moonlighting as a musician these days.)

You see the play from multiple angles, and quote often you're shown the performers' perspective of the audience. It's remarkable to see all three levels of the theater from the stage, and it's even more remarkable to see a Broadway audience so obviously involved with the show. One advantage that audience might have on home viewers is they're constantly on their feet. Aside from when I've been to performances almost entirely populated by NYC students, I've not seen audiences so physically enthralled by a performance. 

While I wasn't a follower of Talking Heads, I'm familiar with their big hits. They alternate with newer and different songs, but there's palpable excitement when Byrne plays hits. This band does everything well, including a nonsense lyric from Dada. The choreography is really impressive. At 68, Byrne has more energy than most people half his age.

Here's a memorable lyric:

Every day is a miracle. Every day is an unpaid bill.

You owe it to yourself to be happy. Byrne's Utopia is all about showing you how to do that. But Byrne's Utopia is in his mind and on his stage. He knows how far we are from it. He takes a moment to tell of how he was out trying to get people to pledge to vote. He has some organization in the theater ready to register audience members to vote, no matter which state they're from.

And when Byrne decides to give a direct message about BLM, he does it in a way that's unforgettable aurally and visually. Byrne heard Janelle Monae sing a song at the Women's March in 2017, and asked for her permission to perform it. How would she feel about a white man singing this song? She was thrilled and you will be too when you see it. Why are people of color being murdered on American streets? If you still aren't sure what Black Lives Matter is about, Byrne and have not only chapter and verse, but also photos. In stark contrast with the nominal leader of our country, Byrne says he himself can get better.

He follows that with a song of hope, calling America a work in progress. We won't know much about American progress until at least November 4th. But if you need something hopeful to hang your hat on for a little while, this is it. You'll be right there as Byrne marches the band out into the audience, and out into the New York streets on bicycles. 

You deserve a diversion. If you haven't got HBO, Try a free trial.  If you don't like it, I'll refund your money.

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