From David Byrne, artistry that makes complete sense
David Byrne was sitting alone at a table, center stage, holding a big pink brain, intoning, “Here is a region of abundant details/Here is a region that is seldom used,” as impressionistic chords and percussive rhythms kicked in and, one by one, the 11 other musicians of his band joined him. Within three songs, the band had burst into the anthemic Talking Heads hit “I Zimbra,” and the stage had exploded with light and movement.
Byrne has described his current tour, for his latest solo CD, “American Utopia,” as his most ambitious production since the Heads’ epochal 1983 “Stop Making Sense.” And Tuesday’s sold-out show — the first of two nights at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion — was a night of all-encompassing musical theater.
Byrne and the band performed in gray suits and bare feet on a bare stage, bordered by gray-bead curtains. Wired for sound, the percussionists, guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, and backup singers were untethered by mic stands or amps and moved freely, choreographed by Annie-B Parson. They danced in circles or in lines, skipped happily, broke off into subgroups, disappeared offstage, returned. Occasionally an arm would emerge from the beads to hand Byrne a guitar.
The music was Byrne’s typical pan-stylistic mélange of art-pop, Brazilian samba, funk, African polyrhythms. It ranged over his Talking Heads and solo work, from Heads’ staples like “Slippery People,” “Once in a Lifetime,” “Burning Down the House,” and “The Great Curve,” to deep cuts (“Blind,” from 1988’s “Naked”), the Fatboy Slim collaboration “Toe Jam,” and a “disco” piece from “Here Lies Love,” his and Fatboy Slim’s musical about Imelda Marcos.
There were also a handful of songs from “American Utopia,” co-written by Byrne and longtime collaborator Brian Eno, with bits solicited from numerous others, rife with propulsive rhythms, synth washes, and naïve melodies, to borrow from one of Byrne’s subtitles.
The lyrics were typical Byrne — the mundane bric-a-brac of contemporary life, its confluences and opposites, the regions of the brain and the American psyche (“the president” shows up in “Dog’s Mind”), utopian aspiration and dystopian reality. If there was a theme, it was inclusiveness and sober optimism, contained not only in songs like the new “Every Day Is a Miracle,” but even in the final encore, Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout,” with its updated litany — Freddie Gray to Trayvon Martin to Emmett Till and Amadou Diallo and back again to Sandra Bland and Michael Brown — and the shouted refrain: “Say his/her name!” A dark topic, but there was affirmation in bearing witness. An apt coda for a remarkable evening.
At Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, Tuesday