The stage was wrapped in curtains of beads forming three tall walls. A table with a brain resting on it and chair bathed in a square of light. From the darkness he appears like a barefoot professor, wild grey hair, grey suit. He is joined by his backup singers. Soon musicians are materializing through the walls. The lights a wash of blue or red. It is minimal. It is joyful. It is creative. It is shadow and light. It is human. It is David Byrne.
David Byrne is wrapping up his world tour in support of his newest album America Utopia which was released on Todomundol/Nonesuch Records back in March. This past Saturday, he graced Los Angeles with a spectacular performance at the Shrine Auditorium. Having been in the spotlight for some four decades the former Talking Heads frontman has always proven he knows what makes a great show. If you have never seen “Stop Making Sense” do yourself a favor and check out one of the best concert films ever and you will have an idea of what the America Utopia World Tour was birthed from.
Byrne is joined by a variety of 11 musicians-two dancer/singers Chris Giarmo and Tendayi Kuumba, bass player Bobby Wooten, guitar player Angie Swan who played a blistering guitar solo during the second encore and Karl Mansfield on Keys. The rest were percussionists Gustavo Di Dalva, Daniel Freedman, Aaron Johnson, Tim Kieper, Mario Refosco and Davi Vieira.The troop exuded joy and community as they performed beautifully choreographed movements by Annie B Parson in minimal loose marching band like formations. Clearly Byrne’s series “Reasons to be Cheerful” is informing his work which is playful and yet meaningful with intense social commentary gift wrapped and delivered with a smile.
David Byrne’s performance at the Shrine Auditorium covered most of the new album and also treated lifelong fans to classic Talking Heads hits culminating in “Burning Down the House” before two highly demanded encores. The first of which featured Byrne’s work with Fatboy slim “Here comes Love” which is based on the words of Imelia Marcos. The second encore however was a call to arms cover of Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout” a protest song which demands us to “say his/her name” after calling out the names of Walter Scott, Jerame Reed, Phillip White, Freddie Grey, Aiyana Jones, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Treyvon Martin, Emmett Till, Kimani Gray, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Tommy Yancy, Stephen Clark and Amadou Diallo. Each one having lost their life at the hands of law enforcement. Each one without justice. Byrne lamented that although the song was written in 2015 that it’s still relevant today and that new names needed to be added to it. Byrne’s political activism was also on display in the lobby with Head Count registering people to vote and he implored the audience to vote in every election that they can because “local reps get things done that big government is too chicken shit to do”.
Opening for Byrne were French, by way of Cuba and Venezuela, were twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz. The duo go by the name of Ibeyi, which translates to “twin” in the Nigerian language Yoruba. Ibeyi’s sound was joyous and jazzy, singing in English, French, Spanish and Yoruba. Ibeyi are choir-like in their harmonies and club-like in their beats.
Words & Photography: ZB Images