ACL Live Review: David Byrne

Subconscious free-flow behind primal, percussive rhythms

David Byrne began with a brain.

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Emerging quietly and alone on the massive ACL main stage set up with only a small table and wooden chair, the Talking Head sat down and held up a model of man’s center of intellect: “Here is a region of abundant details. Here is a region that is seldom used.”

Then he launched his Friday afternoon set behind “Here,” closing track to this year’s American Utopia. Byrne, 66, followed with an hourlong dive into the subconscious behind primal, percussive rhythms and his cerebral, almost absurdist lyrics. Even as the band swelled to eight members on “Lazy” and then 12 with “I Zimbra,” the show remained minimal and precise, all instruments strapped to the players as they marched around the stage in free-flow formations.

The 13-song set rested heavily on Talking Heads favorites, revving midway with “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” and “Once in a Lifetime” as the band sweat through their matching gray suits and the funky, stripped-down, New Wave rhythms increasingly entranced behind Byrne’s charmingly awkward vogues. Likewise, the double shot of “Road to Nowhere” and “Burning Down the House” sent the crowd into a dancing frenzy.

Yet Byrne saved his most powerful statement for last – a cover of Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout.” The full band shouted a litany of names of African-Americans slain by police, demanding recognition and atonement as Byrne shifted focus from the subconscious to collective conscience.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More David Byrne
Friday ACL Fest 2018 Record Reviews
David Byrne
American Utopia (Record Review)

Greg Beets, Oct. 5, 2018

So Much Specialness
So Much Specialness
David Byrne's cult classic True Stories captured a lost Texas and a prescient picture of today

Leah Churner, Oct. 5, 2012

More by Doug Freeman
Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
Jess Williamson, Ondara, Cherubs, Blushing, and more recommended shows

June 9, 2023

Listen to This: The Push & Shove Takes a Big Rock Swig With “These Times”
Listen to This: The Push & Shove Takes a Big Rock Swig With “These Times”
Venue and beverage scene vets unite for debut LP The Rookie

June 2, 2023


David Byrne, ACL Fest 2018, ACL Music Fest 2018, Talking Heads, Janelle Monae

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle