Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Re-David Byrne | Lefsetz Letter

I saw all three of the shows you mentioned (Springsteen, David Byrne, and Hamilton) on Broadway. That’s one of the great things about living in Baltimore; it’s a two and a half hour train ride to NYC. I also watched Bruce and Hamilton on the TV versions, and totally agree with you. You just aren’t there. None of the excitement is captured. You feel like you are watching other people have a good time. It’s even worse than seeing a concert from a corporate skybox, which totally sucks.

One of the early pandemic bright spots looked like it was going to be all of the artists who were performing from their living rooms. It was a great idea but geez did it get old quickly! There is just nothing like being there, even with a millenial on your left looking at their cell phone the whole time and someone invading your space on the right while singing loudly and out of tune. I so miss the hassles, smells, discomforts, and monetary ripoffs of live music, and can’t wait to be back out there and complaining again!!

Hope you are well,

Rich Madow


David Byrne’s Utopia was el stinko. Thankfully I DVR’d, so I could FFW to the Talking Heads songs.

Fran Thornton
Phila, PA


I have only seen one video of a show like this that caught the excitement of the live performance. it was the final Broadway performance of RENT produced by Radical Media.

Tag Gross


Couldn’t agree more.

Sari Leon


I had the same reaction. It was unwatchable. And I’m not only a Byrne/Talking Heads fan, I had the original Talking Heads demo and the stuff left off My Life In the Bush Of Ghosts. The same phrase kept running through my head: artsy fartsy. I don’t know, maybe you had to be there but it sure didn’t come over my big TV.

Phil Brown


You are the only one.  Your sad negativity reflects a vacancy of spirit within you.  Maybe your just texting and blogging too much and have lost your heart somewhere in your selfish egotistical misplaced judgement of others. Your arrogance has me on the verge of cancelling all connections to your “opinions of emptiness.”

Mark Manning


I could not disagree more.  I found the show to be delightful and David Byrne sounded great.  Everyone I spoke to about it thought the same.  I don’t know what you were watching.

Howard Turoff


It seems I was the only critic who didn’t care much for Stop Making Sense when it first arrived.  Since the review was in a national mag I caught the ire of Gary Kurfirst. Looking back with a little regret  perhaps that film had the same problem as Spike Lee’s effort.  I had never experienced a Talking Heads show that I didn’t like going back to seeing them as a trio opening for The Ramones at Max’s Kansas City.   Something with Byrne is lost in the translation between the media. That’s pretty the same with all bands which is why Woodstock remains the only great concert film. The music was secondary to the event.

Now it’s a curriculum-worthy chunk of Americana.

Keep the copy coming Bob.

Jonathan Gross


I occasionally agree with you, but re:  your analysis of Byrne’s show – bullshit.  Duh -it wasn’t live.  I enjoyed it. Being there, in person, audience vibe better? Again – duh.

Mike DeVirgilio


You are so spot on with this. This show was one of most memorable theatrical experiences I have ever had.  The film totally missed  the amazing choreography and elegant staging (a simple but unique set). It should have been shot with 3-4 cameras with most of the footage from the audience POV. The endless closeups of feet and individuals in the band detracted from the energy of being there. We sat 1st row mezzanine and it was almost hallucinating. The staging of this show was remarkable…true artistry, and you get none of that from this paint by numbers effort. Sad, but I can’t wait for AU to be restaged cause I’m gonna be there!


Bob, you hit it on the head. I love Bruce and I love David, but their television specials were, I am sorry to say boring.
Bob Meyrowitz


Bob, I disagree heartily. I thought Spike Lee did a great job capturing the energy and flow of the live show. The choreography was amazing, the music rhythmic and uplifting and I did not hear any significant fall off in David Byrne’s voice. He is the sun around which everyone on stage revolves The only quibble I had was how it started (slowly). The fact that there are no musicians other than those dancing on stage (and no tapes) makes it that much more impressive.

Smoke a joint and then watch it again Bob.


Dick Wingate


That was an excellent segue into a Save our Stages plea – bravo! That said, I agree on Utopia, it just didn’t provide the energy and vibrancy it was going for for me.

Jon Cappetta


Amazing live. Couldn’t watch after 15 minutes.

Hal Kempson


I surely won’t be the only person to tell you the soundtrack came out last year.

Gordon Elgart


You had to be there. Where I saw it on Broadway I literally left the theater with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step, it was that good. It was exciting, fast paced beautifully choreographed and the music was, well, it’s the Talking Heads. I agree though, live performances like this lose quite a bit in the translation to the screen. Too bad because it was one of the greatest things Ive ever seen on Broadway.
Thanks Bob,
Michael Eigen


I think David Byrne should play David Byrne should portray Mr. Rogers in a Funk opera that he writes.He will wear slippers and not be barefoot.

Michael Des Barres.


Bob-  Do you REALLY think Hamilton on Disney “didn’t work”?  Or are you just being contrarian because most people loved it.  IMHO, that was a close as you can ever come to reproducing the feel of live theater on film — it was truly a master work within the genre of filmed theater performances.

And now, I’ll get off your lawn.

Andy Kantor


I kind of hear where you’re coming from. The live version of American Utopia was exhilarating. My husband and I went for our anniversary a year ago this week and went back again bringing our college age kids at Christmas. For the record my then 22 year old loved it but my Gov Ball/Camp Flog Gnaw loving 19 year old didn’t get what we were so excited about. At all. Tendayi Kuumba and Chris Giarmo – the dancing vocalists – are mesmerizing live on stage. You can’t take your eyes off of them.

Barbara Barna Abel


I am regular reader of yours, and on occasion will squint in disagreement — this time I have to push back hard on your take.

Both shows were joyous, exuberant, very well shot and recorded.

HBO / Spike Lee version of American Utopia did a nice job of revealing the shows themes. (I saw the live play 2X and literally have tickets for tonight Oct 21, 2020 rescheduled for 2021)

Same thing for the Disney Plus version of Hamilton (only saw live show once).

If your take is TV is not as immersive, involving or joyous as the live show — well of course, its TV, not Broadway. if you go to a lot of live concerts, plays, stand up, etc. each month, then the lock down has really been depressing with no live events. So these were a welcome filler but regardless they were both very well done.

You need to forget the hype/previews/reviews and let the artwork stand on its own.
When you do that, both shows succeed splendidly

Barry Ritholtz


Amen, maybe all this time away from live performances will make us appreciate them more.
You don’t know what you got til it’s gone.

I saw Byrne’s show live on Broadway, couldn’t sit still, it was full of surprises and exceedingly well done.
I’m glad you were able to see the promise, and I hope you get to see it live at some point.
The film probably doesn’t include little gems like this:

“The authorities have informed me that you are welcome to dance at your seats, but not in the aisles,
because, should a fire break out, that would put you at an unfair advantage.”
-intro to Burnin’ Down the House

Best regards,

C Darryl Mattison


Finally, some has the courage to criticize David Byrne. Thank you Bob!  I wish mr. Byrne put some shoes on!

Best regards,

Tony Savarino


You totally nailed it.

John Brodey


Thanks for the Byrne review. I was afraid I was the only one. It was boring and I couldn’t watch it all, despite some interesting angles from Spike Lee. Byrne’s voice wasn’t just lacking, it was off key way too often. The musicians were good, but Byrne weighed them down. When he sang the line “And God is a very old rooster,” my 4-year-old asked, “Do his words mean something in another language, because they don’t make sense in English?” I know better than to get my lyrical interpretations from a pre-K kid, but it was the most entertaining part of watching the televised show. My 17-year-old, who likes the old Talking Heads albums, said she would have been terminally bored seeing this show live and would have had to run from the theater, despite Byrne’s nod to Janell Monae.

Brad Kava


I’m flabbergasted that you found American Utopia unwatchable, I found it the exact opposite. My partner and I were totally engulfed in the performance actually wishing we could see it on the now blacked out Broadway. When I say him and his cast performing on SNL before the pandemic closure I was again spellbound and extremely excited by the soon to be released movie of the Broadway production.
I also was amazed that you felt you needed a soundtrack release to know the songs performed. It was a Talking Heads concert with a wondrous interpretation of their songbook with a few solo Byrne works from his other projects. I felt it challenged Jonathan Demme’s  Stop Making Sense, seen as one of the greatest concert films ever produced.
Maybe you missed the new wave movement of the 80’s, the Broadway’s production audience certainly hadn’t.

Mike Hansen


100% wrong about American Utopia and I could just cry from how depressing you sound knocking this amazing piece of art. Spike captured it perfectly.

Josh Valentine


Did you at least get hardship-pay for watching it?

Art Fein


I think if you saw the live show — as I did — you could also enjoy the tv version that reminded you of how much fun you had. Also what it was like just before COVID. For people who were experiencing it for the first time not so much.

David Hershkovits


I saw David’s show 3 times in NYC.  An incredible experience.  I saw Springsteen’s show also…no comparison…I don’t know how to explain it.  A unique concert designed for the Broadway stage..I’d get on a plane from Colorado to NYC and see it again before I watch it on HBO.


Edmund J. Kelly


I haven’t seen American Utopia yet, and eventually I will, but David Byrne depresses me. And even though I know that all of the dancing and costumes and fun of it all goes almost all the way back to the inception of Talking Heads, especially the masterpiece Stop Making Sense, the costumes and the dancing over the last decade or whatever has made me sick. Drums, guitar, bass, keyboard, voice. Talking Heads: 77 for me is the band’s pinnacle because it is furthest removed from the costumes and the dancing, which is to say that it is the closest to rock and roll, where you had great songs played by an excellent band. Dancing and costumes…watching Tina Weymouth play bass is endlessly more exciting, captivating, and beautiful than any amount of barefoot dancers traipsing around could ever be. I haven’t seen the film yet, and I will probably like, even love it, if even some of the hype is to be believed. But it can’t be as good “Tentative Decisions” and the fact that that type of music and a more direct musical presentation of that music is so far from where Byrne’s head is at makes my skin crawl. Too many people like this shit!

Daniel Grgas


I think you’re dead-on Bob.
I haven’t watched it yet, and I probably wont. I have, however, been fortunate to be working on the same stage or a nearby stage at multiple festivals and the performance was electrifying.
I’m a 15 year touring professional and best case scenario, I MAY be able return to work next Summer. I’ve been on unemployment since May and the artist I work for was generous enough to give our entire crew a 1 time payment to help out with all of the lost work. Despite all of this, I’m slowly bleeding dry. As are most of my colleagues in the business that haven’t already decided to move on to greener pastures.
When concerts can once again happen, they’ll be really tough to pull off without any crew left. Can you imagine Madonna having to push a road case?
If any one in our government ever hopes to go to a show again, I do hope they’ll take some action to ensure that’s possible before it’s too late.
Thanks for the support!
Stu Tenold


I’m guessing what you are missing is that David was one of the pioneers of Nerd Culture, at a time when being a nerd wasn’t cool.  I remember someone saying back then that he proved you could be a nerd, a geek, and a spaz, and still be cool.   And since the Talking Heads his music has become more serious and dense. Now that Nerds Rule The World it’s great to see him doing a Happy show and seeming to accept his Aspergers, as the world has accepted being a nerd.  Good for him.

Be a nerd Bob, it’s the new way now.

Ron Hill


David is brilliant, the live show on Broadway was brilliant, the HBO rendition is brilliant.

I worked with Talking Heads from 1977-1984, their formative years.

I first met them at The Rathskeller in Kenmore Square/Boston in ’77, there were maybe 25 people in the place.

It was evident then how creative they all were, poised for longevity and greatness; not just David, but Chris, Tina and Jerry as well.

See it again, let yourself fall into the experience, turn the volume way up.

Watch out, you might get what you’re after!

ted cohen


I desperately wanted to like this show, but sadly it was disappointing.

Mitchell Cohen


I haven’t seen the movie — and won’t bother, based on your comments — but I did see the show, was very lucky to have seats close to the stage, and it was a gas, just magnificent, you could feel the connection with the audience, the fun, the enjoyment, he was playing just for us, as were his percussionists, dancers, and guitarist.  He looked me in the eye a few times, played just to me for a few nanoseconds.  Yes, his voice (never great) has lost some shine, and his limbo move doesn’t go as far back as it used to, but all that made no difference, it was still a totally enjoyable, memorable experience.  It’s gonna restart on Broadway some time next year.  I’ll be seeing it again.  I recommend it to you.

Bob Borque


Yes, god, it was so boring I only watched about twenty minutes of it. He showed no interest in what he was doing, and the fact the he, like Roger Waters, is still living off of 40-year old material is quite sad. As you say, perhaps you had to be there, but the barefoot marching band schtick might have been avant garde in the 80s, but it just looks like a cliché now.

Kirk McElhearn


This was very unfriendly, both shows were excellent and I am not alone. Why must you be divisive? The interviews, thought provoking and creative output have been a guiding light in these unprecedented times for so many. We have even watched the HBO special more than once with the whole family and I have heard from many great humans and great minds how brilliant and well done the show is. One if the silver linings of this pandemic is the fact that it has been bringing good people together around relevant topics.

Kirk M. Sommer | WME

(Note: WME is David Byrne’s agency.)


Having seen the show live, this was not it. This is also why adaptations of musicals become movies rather than just a film of the show. I felt much the same about Hamilton, though perhaps letting so many see it was worthwhile. It was just not the same.

Robert Heiblim


good points Bob. the HBO show was meh. And if they’d had the original band playing, tina and chris and jerry it would’ve been great. That band cooked! And live they rocked! Those song’s presented in this way wasn’t rock or art, it was just weak.


Hate to critique/nitpick, but the the soundtrack was put out on Nonesuch well in advance.

Thanks for all you do!

Matt O’Donnell


It did have a soundtrack, released last year

Adam Scharfberg


No, you’re not the only one – I didn’t care for it either. It wasn’t exactly bad, but I’m not even moved to articulate what it lacked or why it didn’t get me off. What did they say 5 yrs ago? “Meh”?

Rob Wolfson


I don’t know why I don’t unsubscribe. I disagree with virtually everything you say…. from politics to David Byrne. Opinions are like assholes. Everyone’s got one…

Nicole Sandler


Always appreciate your opinion, but couldn’t disagree more. Not sure we watched the same thing. His voice sounded incredible, the music was instantly gripping, the visuals were like nothing I’ve seen and I felt like I was there.

Far more meaningful and thrilling than Hamilton, or any bloody show I’ve seen in years, live or on screen.

Daryl Shawn


I really tried to watch it and in the end I napped to it.

I like guys who are brilliant like this but it is artsy, Warhol, Lou Reed pretentiousness New York stuff to me.

But Byrne does fascinate me.  He follows his muse.  I just like the way Dylan and Neil Young follow theirs better.

Michael A. Becker


I just watched this last night. I think he is a genius. True blue.

But Spike Lee’s direction was at times sloppy. I am not sure if this was filmed on multiple occasions / performamce nights, but the splicing was bad and Byrne’s hair length seemed to change back and forth.

However, it was nice to have a live show experience again sort of.

AND, it reminded me of how fresh DB can be – in small doses. And it inspired me to find Stop Making Sense on Youtube and re-watch that.

Paul Koidis


I hear you Bob

A ray of sunshine in the darkness is LIVE will explode when we get this behind us

The Phoenix will rise from the ashes and I for one expect it to be a revolution inspiring the next wave we been waiting for…

I certainly hope so…

**I used to own The Splash Club a groundbreaking venue in the 90’s breaking many bands and worked with Womad Real World etc before working for Placebo management and promoters Riverman in Asia and the Bangkok 100 pipers festival with Oasis Stone Roses Placebo Franz Ferdinand etc after that

Ben Steadman


We saw the show on Broadway and it was AMAZING! Didn’t see the HBO effort because, quite frankly, we figured it could never match (or come close to) the live experience. You’re absolutely right about the demise of the arts. I keep wondering when the Big Business Suits are gonna start Rollerball as a way to appease the masses…



Maybe I did enjoy the filmed performance because I did see it on Broadway last fall.  There’s only so much you can do with a bare floor and a shiny curtain, but I thought the unusual shot choices worked and it reminded me of how much I did enjoy the show. Since the holy grail of a Talking Heads reunion is unlikely, I was happy to take this over nostalgia.

Tim Redman


I agree completely. And I really like David Byrne.

You’re also right about artists in this country, no one values them–especially if it’s gonna cost them money.

Rik Shafer


I had the same reaction as you did, Bob. Filmed versions of live stage events do not work for me either.

Morley Walker


Yes Bob, you are quite literally the only one.

Ron Hill


Dude – this is Art on Broadway, not a rock show in a stadium, or a club, or a joint – and not intended for Spotify! David Byrne has always been an artist, first and foremost – music just its principal expression. Despite a few elements that I regarded as a tad too overt as political statements, American Utopia is Art created from and for the heart, and to this heart here – succeeds wonderfully.

Malcolm Clark


Needed a soundtrack album? The live cast recording has been out for a year.

As for the disservice to the live show, the original plan was for this film to be out after the return run had already hit Broadway. The show would’ve made its money and anybody who missed it could catch the film. Not sure what the HBO terms were after things were delayed, but they’ve since used it to launch sales for rescheduled dates… which could end up being postponed again. The core tenet of the show – the need for community – is especially resonant now, so I can understand the thought behind releasing it before the show resumed. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

David Conklin


You obviously did not catch this tour live. It was brilliant. I’ve watched at least four times.

Lori Halloran


My wife & I really enjoyed American Utopia and have recommended to others.

Clarke Kelly


For what it’s worth, there WAS an original Broadway cast album, recorded live.

David Basskin


“…and Hamilton on Disney did not work….” maybe not for you, but it sure did for me (I had seen it on broadway, 3rd cast) and for my family (never saw it, from Australia, virtually no understanding of the story and had never heard the soundtrack).

One of your lesser hot takes, Bob.

Phil Bonanno


If that didn’t move you, you must be dead already.

Drop your rock ‘n roll pedigree, your good old days, the future is now. We may never have live performances ever again. Just wait till tRump regains his throne. Amy will ban IVF and health care is gone except for rump’s 100k cure. Then you will appreciate “Burnin’ Down The House.”

David Byrne’s voice was spectacular. It was honest and direct. All with no props. Playing and singing. No wires, no shoes, no distractions. Great songwriting and lyrics more relevant than ever. Presence.

Gillian Welch wrote “Everything is Free.”  Not all content has a monetary value. Check out Little Steven’s Teach Rock website. That’s what you do when you have real money Bob. Educate. Don’t denigrate.
Teacher in Swampscott, MA


Bob, you’re right and wrong.
Bruce on Broadway was magical.  The video of the show was one of 10 best live concert movies I’ve ever seen.   But not as good as the best ones like The Last Waltz or Woodstock which fit the concert into a wider social context, making the whole experience deeper.
Hamilton is the greatest musical created in my lifetime.  The video of it was outstanding.  My 14 year daughter, who has seen Hamilton twice and knows every song by heart, sat enraptured for every second.   Not nearly as good as the live show, but that’s an impossibly high bar.
Can’t wait for live shows to resume in 2021, but until then I relish what we have.
Rob Glaser


Haven’t seen it on TV, yet…but fucking loved it live, here in Boston.  Although it took all of them to do what Chris Frantz and Steve Scales did on their own!

Hugo Burnham


In the crowd that I hang out with the answer would be yes Bob you are the only one that thought it wasn’t good. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the treatment of the songs. I thought it was very creatively minimally staged and brought the accent into the music and the dancing and he had some great talent on stage with him and all of it was live.
Unwatchable? Hardly
Peace, Jason
Jason Miles


Exactly!  I saw it live twice.  Don’t know how you can capture it on film.  You need to see the whole show and the whole stage at once or it doesn’t work.  I will not watch this version.

Ed Maier
ElmThree Productions


I was at the first show of this tour with Ashko, the accomplished guitarist.

The show was at the Count Basie theater in Red Bank NJ, on a Saturday Night deep into October 2018.

The show had been sold out since the tickets went on sale. Living in the area, I’ve had a membership to the theater for years, yet we were still unable at attain a seat.

To get in, we resorted to the old school method of scalping tickets! – this show was hot and it didn’t matter that it was small town america.

Once inside, there was announcement before the show started that requested we do not film for photograph the show, as it was the first night of the tour and there were kinks to work out that Byrne didn’t feel was right yet, but the show must go on.

Byrne opened with the upbeat dance track “Lazy” that I know from the DJs spinning over my years doing engineering and tech work on the Euroclub scene. The tunes put the crowd on their feet and kept them there all night. The visual presentation and sound were phenomenal in person; way better than the small screen.

While I broached that topic  – what gives, why is the big screen experience dead! Nothing captures like scale and tv has none of it. 5 watt tv speakers can’t reproduce the sound of a massive PA system.

But I digress…

Back to the show:

From there he dove into a medley Talking Heads favorites and solo work, including a rendition of “Flowers” that closely mimics his work with Caetano, the Brazilian musician.

This show was an excellent experience that was not properly presented for the small screen.

Oh well, it’s a different world and I have a large projection screen and a killer sound system to enjoy the future with…

Albert Bale
Bale Technologies, LLC


I saw it live on Broadway last fall. Sixth row, center seat, small theater.

It was wonderful.

But I also saw Talking Heads in Austin in 1977 at the Armadillo World Headquarters, long before they had anything recognizable besides “Psycho Killer.”

They were phenomenal.

The 1980 Talking Heads tour with the extraordinary Dolette McDonald on vocals was incredible. You can find it on YouTube.

And of course we all know about Stop Making Sense.

But the bottom line – as much as I loved Byrne and company on Broadway, I just keep thinking –

Why won’t he put Talking Heads back together???

They’re all still alive, well, and musical.

During the Broadway show, you could feel the entire theater practically LEVITATE every time they performed a Talking Heads song.

Wouldn’t you love to see the four of THEM together again – live OR on film??

I would.



Oh dear, Bob…I could forward you any number of comments from friends around the country, who LOVE the Spike Lee treatment of the show.

i like the film…not quite the same way I loved  the two  times I saw the show on Broadway…which WAS thrilling indeed…I glowed for a good while afterwards…but pretty great.

I have one friend who thinks that Spike’s treatment enhanced the experience, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Yet, for anyone who has not, likely will never see the live show, the film is really quite good.  I mean, you want to make room to dance in  your living room, or wherever…and if you’re alone watching, there’s THAT…but I’m having a hard time imagining just what set you off like that…

David Byrne has always had a somewhat quirky voice, which is part of his charm.  But he sounded really good live, I can say that, and I didn’t have misgivings about his vocal instrument while viewing the film.

As to the soundtrack in advance…it’s out there…the live recording of the show is readily available, so….what was your point?

Given my many very real musician friends, from serious jazz players to a wide variety of genres…and their positive spin on the film, some of them having seen the live show and others not, I think YOU missed the boat on this one.

Alice Barstow


I haven’t seen David Byrne’s American Utopia, but nobody said Stop Making Sense did not translate to the big screen (not even Pauline Kael).
Be well,
Chris Frantz


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