David Byrne let his guitar stoop on its strap for a second, after opening his Broadway present, “American Utopia,” with a fiery rendition of “The Revolution.” He regarded wearily into the viewers and requested, “Wouldn’t it be heavenly if nothing ever happened?” People laughed. Byrne set free a tough snort. The joke, gift-wrapped as a query, wanted no elaboration. The subtext, the viewers understood, was “Treat yourself tonight, since the world is collapsing.”
Not so lengthy earlier than, throughout the week main as much as Christmas, “American Utopia” ’s producers had cancelled 5 performances. Too many forged and crew members had been sidelined by COVID, with seven testing constructive, despite the fact that they’d been vaccinated. Rather than shut the present, Byrne introduced on social media, “You can cash in your ticket, or you can have what’s behind this curtain,” which he billed as “a show you’ll never, ever see again.” He was providing a retooled “American Utopia,” that includes an assortment of songs reimagined by a scaled-back band of musicians. “We’re just gonna come up with a show, you know? Hey!” he mentioned. “This is our opportunity to make lemonade from COVID lemons.”
In a current Zoom name, Byrne defined the way it occurred: “We looked at the situation and we mapped it out. We said, ‘O.K., we can do this with the people we have left.’ ” He paused to regulate a strap on his blue-and-white striped overalls. “With fewer crew members, we could not do ‘Burning Down the House.’ That is a big one—very popular with the audience.” He continued, “Onstage, it’s ‘Look, we’re going to show you what’s possible.’ ”
“It got hectic as fuck,” Bobby Wooten III, the bassist, mentioned, on a separate Zoom name. Wooten, who has performed with each model of the present, mentioned that though they have been utilizing the similar stage and a few of the similar folks, “the show we’re putting on is completely different. We’re doing songs that basically none of us, outside of David, have ever played before—like, thirteen new songs.” He went on, “We literally had eight hours of rehearsal the Sunday before and we had four hours the day of. And then each person put in a lot of time outside of that.”
“Remembering the music! Remembering the lyrics!” Byrne mentioned on the Zoom, chuckling. He’d been happy to see a variety of youthful folks in the viewers these days, and he observed that different, older followers had come greater than as soon as. “I thought, Wait a minute. I’ve seen that couple at a previous show,” he mentioned. “They’re back!”
On a naked stage, Byrne and firm seem in shiny grey fits, with no footwear. Between songs, whereas band members swap up devices and regroup, he tells tales. He winces if his punch traces come out garbled, and generally he wears the “Who, me?” grin of a seven-year-old who has snagged your pockets after which gives that can assist you discover it.
On the third night time of the experiment, the viewers, lots of whom have been double-masked, was palpably nervous. Heads swivelled, as folks reassured themselves that their neighbors had their masks on tightly sufficient. By the time Byrne sang the Talking Heads hit “Once in a Lifetime,” they relaxed.
“I could see them listen to each other,” Ayla Huguenot, a seventeen-year-old musician in the viewers, mentioned of the band members. “At certain points, Byrne would turn around and motion, like, ‘O.K., let’s do that chorus one more time.’ And then they would all kind of look at each other to see when they were going to end it.” Her buddy Carter Nyhan, additionally a musician, appreciated the teamwork, too, together with “some bumps here and there.”
By the closing quantity, “Road to Nowhere,” the complete viewers was on its ft and dancing. It was an anti-Broadway night, an unapologetic show of solidarity and belief amid a cloud of tension. When the curtain fell, masks couldn’t muffle the rapturous hollers.
On the Zoom, Byrne had mentioned, “I do feel a lot of love coming from the audience. I try not to take it personally. I tend to think to myself, They don’t really love me. They don’t know me as a person. They love what I’ve done and what that means to them.” He added, “And I try and reciprocate that—be very present and real. Let them know that I’m talking to them in that moment.”
He is having fun with the scrappy aspect of the present. “I think I might miss how we had to really scramble,” he mentioned. “But, performing in the era of COVID, there’s nothing glamorous about that, either. I’ll be happy when that’s all over, when the audiences can take off their masks.” ♦