The City Stage for Thursday night’s headliner was set like a scene out of a 60’s black and white sci-fi flick. Stark and devoid of colour, a small desk was the only object seen, on which sat a pink human brain. From behind the 30-foot high chain link curtain, David Byrne emerged, dressed in a pale grey suit to match the décor. Taking his place at the desk, he looked every bit the mad scientist as he scooped up the brain into his hands. The first throngs of “Here,” from Byrne’s newest studio album, American Utopia, sent immediate shockwaves up my spine, and in true David Byrne style, an artistic landscape of sight and sound was cast.
One by one, an army of eleven grey-clad band members took to the stage, bearing a wireless arsenal of drums/percussion, bass, guitar, keys, and vocal head sets. The troupe performed a 90-minute set of Byrne’s solo and collaborative works, and of course, a healthy selection of essential Talking Heads material. His American Utopia Tour will have seen 5 continents over an 11-month period by the end of November, with Ottawa having been one of the only Canadian dates.
A handful of tracks from the new album included “Dog’s Mind”, and the new age goodness of “Everybody’s Coming to My House”, which all demonstrated Byrne’s signature avant garde poetry in motion. Some of his earlier solo work, “Like Humans Do” (2002), featured some infectious African grooves that he has adapted into a great deal of his past and present music. “Everything you hear coming off of this stage is being played by this incredible band!” Byrne shouted to a packed CityFolk grounds, “and I’m gonna prove it!” Each member chimed in, while the crowd roared with delight, until the instrumental crescendo began to pump out the Caribbean-flavoured Talking Heads tune, “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)”. The band’s choreography was exciting to watch, especially the two backing vocalists who were constantly embroiled in synchronized movement.
More Talking Heads classics came with the very rhythmic “Blind”, and more visual embellishments that involved larger-than-life shadow images of the band as they played. “Once In A Lifetime”, complete with Byrne’s spoken/sung lyrics and awkward robotic theatrics brought back the early days of MTV, except without the shoulder pads. Finally the anticipated “Burning Down the House” brought down the house with its intense rhythms and rich choral power that turned the grounds into a little bit of 80’s night club magic. The show ended with a Janelle Monae protest song entitled “Hell You Talmbout”, which named various individuals who have been victims of violence. As Byrne put it, “Sadly, the song was as relevant then as it is today.” Earlier performers, Ani DiFranco and Tune-Yards were invited to join in which brought positive elements of communion and supportiveness that tied up the night under a perfectly warm and windless Thursday night at CityFolk.
CityFolk runs from September 12–16, 2018 at Lansdowne Park. Visit cityfolkfestival.com for the lineup and schedule. Keep checking back for more Apt613 coverage and follow us on Instagram for the latest photos.