Avid area concertgoer Thomas Heneghan said it best as we filed out of the concert in a happy daze: "Well, that's my summer concert season, right there, even though it hasn’t even started yet. Nothing can possibly top this."
David Byrne has said that his current tour is "the most ambitious show I've done since the shows that were filmed for 'Stop Making Sense,' " a reference to the Jonathan Demme-directed 1983 Talking Heads film upon which much of Byrne's status as a cultural icon is based. A full house at the University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts learned exactly what Byrne meant by that comment on Tuesday evening, as he led a 12-piece band through a euphorically artsy marriage of musical minimalism and joyful choreography that celebrated new album "American Utopia" (due March 9) and dug deep into both Byrne's solo and Talking Heads repertoire.
Only the third gig in a tour that Byrne suggested would be a lengthy one, Tuesday's show was both transportative and transformative, a bacchanal in which the party favors consisted of peerless art-pop-funk masterpieces, often stunning ensemble dance moves, and stark, minimalist lighting effects.
In a nod to the opening moments of "Stop Making Sense," the show began with a bare stage, save for a small table with a model of the human brain on it and a chair, upon which Byrne perched to sing "Here," a new tune that turns a descriptive analysis of the brain into an epic abstract poem. Slowly, a three-sided curtain comprised of thin metal chains rose to surround the performance space, and Byrne was joined by his band members. The drama only deepened from there, for each musician was outfitted with a wireless microphone, and they performed on the move.
The conventional drum kit had been parceled out to several percussionists who manned their respective roles while spanning the stage like a drum line. A keyboardists, bassist, guitarist and several singers joined in the ensemble dance routines, led by Byrne who, at 65, stunned with his ability to dance, sing, gesticulate and play the occasional guitar solo simultaneously, all while nailing his vocal parts and flubbing nary a syllable in his often surreal and always agile word-streams.
A subtle euphoria worked its way into a steady state of joy, as the ensemble moved with graceful ease between previously unheard "American Utopia" tunes - "Dog's Mind," "I Dance Like This," "Every Day Is A Miracle," "Bullet" and the first single "Everybody's Coming to My House" were standouts – and evergreen Talking Heads classics, among them an uber-funky "I Zimbra," and equally intoxicating takes on "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)," "Burning Down the House," "Slippery People" and "Blind."
African polyrhythms, Latin accents, taut funk, affably intellectual wordplay and indelible pop hooks are the tools of Byrne's trade, and he wielded them with unerring force and conviction. Topical without being sternly tautological, the show was well aware of the milieu within which it took place – a final encore comprised of a stripped-down, tribally rhythmic take on Janelle Monae's "Hell You Talmbout," a song which lists the names of African-Americans who have died at the hands of racial violence and law enforcement. Mostly, though, Byrne and the Co. seemed eager to carry on the work started by Byrne's ongoing curation of the series he calls "Reasons to Be Cheerful," a collection of positive, hopeful writings, photos and music presented at the New School in New York City.
We left the show a little lighter of heart. And that felt like a gift.
Tuesday evening in the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts