LIVE: David Byrne @ Constellation Brands–Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center, 8/5/18


Review and photographs by Martin Benjamin

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t no fooling around
This ain’t no Mudd Club, or CBGB’s,
I ain’t got time for that now…

The only thing wrong about this as a description of David Byrne’s concert at CMAC in Canandaigua on a recent Sunday night is that it was one hell of a party. There was no fooling around with the stage – it was just a clean dance mat covering the entire stage, put down for all of the 11 players to constantly move around on with bare feet. No shoes were present.

There was no drum-kit, no speakers, no stage monitors – there wasn’t anything on stage at all. Innovatively designed so that the stage for the opener, that did have a piano and sideman apparatus present, could be morphed into a minimalist setting instantly by unraveling the elegant bundled hanging cords looking like drapes from floor to rafters, around the perimeter that would transform into what was individual cords hanging down from high above to look like about 1,000 beaded chains around the sides and back of the stage. The stage floor was empty – devoid of technology, or set lists, or anything else. Very cool.

Instruments got passed to musicians through the curtain without ever seeing a stagehand, sound engineer or roadie during the performance. Very simple, very smart. But the smartness of it never got in the way. It only added to the evening.

The show was heavy on percussion, heavy on choreography, and with a good dose of marching band influence. Byrne made a point of informing the audience that everything thing we were hearing was original sound they were creating – no overdubs, samples or canned stuff, not that there is anything wrong with that, either, according to Byrne. It was just that it wasn’t happening here.

Byrne shimmied a lot to the music on stage, as did everyone in the audience. His song list did not disappoint, covering much of his recent American Utopia album, but reaching back into the Talking Heads catalogue to satisfy everyone throughout. There were other Talking Heads signatures as well, including the upright floor lamp and simple huge projections of the players’ shadows on the background as they moved around.

A poignant ending came for the final encore when he announced the ensemble would be performing a song by Janelle Monae, “Hell You Talmbout.” Sung by Byrne and others in a “say-his-name” kind of chant, each name was of a person of color killed by police around America, each repeated several times for emphasis, followed by chants of “say his name.” It was a powerfully ironic ending to a night of American Utopia.

The show really was astonishing. It was clever, smart and mesmerizing, while still rocking out. It was “no disco, no Mudd Club, or CBGB’s” Nor was it any Hulla-Balloo, Palace Theatre, Madison Theater or SPAC. This was David Byrne 2018. Brilliant stuff.

I Zimbra (Talking Heads)
Slippery People (Talking Heads)
I Should Watch TV ((David Byrne & St. Vincent)
Dog’s Mind
Everybody’s Coming to My House
This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) (Talking Heads)
Once in a Lifetime (Talking Heads)
Doing the Right Thing
Toe Jam (Brighton Port Authority)
Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) (Talking Heads)
I Dance Like This
Every Day Is a Miracle
Like Humans Do
Blind (Talking Heads)
Burning Down the House (Talking Heads)
Dancing Together
The Great Curve (Talking Heads)
Hell You Talmbout (Janelle Monáe)

UPCOMING: David Byrne is bringing his American Utopia Tour to the Palace Theatre in Albany at 7:30pm on Sunday, September 9.

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