American Utopia (4 stars)

American Utopia

Spike Lee offers his take on David Byrne's idiosyncratic and extraordinary Broadway show

It's impossible to ever truly recreate the energy and atmosphere of a gig on film but Spike Lee gives it a mighty fine try, bringing one of the Broadway performances of David Byrne's American Utopia show to the screen. It's an interesting amalgam in itself – combining lecture, dance and performance art with tracks from the titular album and rousing renditions of past glories.

Byrne is backed by an 11-strong accompaniment of international musicians, the whole lot of them clad in pale grey suits and shirts buttoned to the neck, walking about in bare feet looking like office workers who've lost the plot in the most wonderful way imaginable. Byrne sings with that faraway look in his eyes, while his band are untethered and free to move in jerky synchronicity (in routines choreographed by the legendary Annie-B Parson, who has worked with Byrne before), which suits the slightly stiff but drolly playful musician. A particular shout-out must go to Byrne's backing vocalists Chris Giarmo and Tendayi Kuumba, who flank him tremendously, while everyone looks thrilled to be there.

Lee's camera peers through the beaded curtains that form a backdrop to the action, it sidles up next to musicians and hovers overhead. Stringing the hits together are Byrne's musings, teachings, and pleas to vote. It's an entertainingly eclectic mix: he begins by considering a human brain and there's a passionate cover of Janelle Monáe's fiery protest song 'Hell You Talmbout', bringing some rawness to proceedings. For fans, this will be something to treasure, but Byrne's hits have broad appeal, his political engagement adds a sense of purpose, and his unusual brand of positivity means the whole thing acts as a welcome lift for the spirits.

Available to watch on demand now.

David Byrne's American Utopia

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 45min
  • 12
  • Directed by: Spike Lee
  • Cast: David Byrne, Chris Giarmo, Angie Swan

Concert film that follows the Talking Heads frontman as he performs his 2019 Broadway show, directed by Spike Lee.