Hudson Theatre, (855) 801-5876
David Byrne isn’t the first rock veteran to hit Broadway with a concert-musical hybrid, said David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter. His new show, though, is “less a concert than a participatory religious experience,” a party meant to lift every viewer’s spirit. The former Talking Heads frontman appears first holding a model of a human brain, mulling over its various parts as he works toward a rendition of “Here,” a song from his 2018 album, American Utopia. Gradually, he’s joined by a total of 11 musicians, vocalists, and dancers, all free to move about the stage and dressed as he is: barefoot but in a gray suit. From there, a playful mix of music, movement, and musings becomes an evening of “pure bliss.” Though “there’s no story as such,” there is a clear theme: that humanity is a potential source of endless wonder and joy.
Once “a cool emblem of alienation,” Byrne has warmed up quite a bit since his CBGB days, said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. Today he’s more like a cool Mister Rogers—one who “happens to infuse his teaching with a beat that turns everyone into a spasmodic St. Vitus dancer.” And though Byrne’s sense of civic virtue inspired him to station a voter registration team in the lobby, his love-thy-neighbor message “comes free of medicinal aftertaste or agitprop.” To acknowledge our topsy-turvy political climate, he simply leads the band into a rousing rendition of “I Zimbra,” a 1979 Talking Heads song that borrowed its lyrics from Dadaist poet Hugo Ball. The ensemble elsewhere “brings a flaming rage” to its cover of a Janelle Monáe song that sounds more than a dozen names of victims of police violence, but even the edgiest of Byrne’s famous old songs now seem “oddly hopeful.” When 1985’s “Road to Nowhere” is performed as an encore, you might feel “the jubilant reassurance that if the journey still has no destination, at least we’re all in it together.”