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David Byrne, Benjamin Clementine

  • Orpheum 216 State Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

David Byrne's latest solo album is a letdown, but his long-awaited tour is still an exciting occasion. Info/tix

  Photo by Jody Rogac.

Photo by Jody Rogac.

Talking Heads co-founder, creator of the Luaka Bop label, and prodigious solo artist and collaborator David Byrne is coming to Madison a promising solo tour (his first in nine years), in support of a long-awaited but disappointing solo album, American Utopia. According to live reviews and videos from cities he's already come through, Byrne's band uses wireless instruments to fluidly do that beautifully awkward dancing reminiscent of the Stop Making Sense tour, with results that resemble a weird, postmodern, 12-piece marching band.

While Byrne's lyrics have often turned everyday banalities into intellectually quotable and life-affirming anthems, American Utopia, his first proper solo album in 14 years (that's not counting collaborative efforts), coughs up lame phrases like "elephants don't read newspapers / And the kiss of a chicken is hot." Even worse—despite the taut economy of Talking Heads and the crafty arrangements Byrne has delivered across his post-Talking Heads career—the songs become bogged down in excessive sonic layers that fail to ground the listener anywhere. The single "Everybody's Coming To My House" is the strongest moment on the album, but still has far too much going on, with horns, multiple synthesizers, erratic drums, electronic percussion, goofily distorted guitars, and a depressingly deflated bass. To be fair, I'm comparing this solo album to the Talking Heads discography, which is one of my favorites, in addition to a solo career marked by stellar collaborations with the likes of St. Vincent and Brian Eno (who also appears on the credits of American Utopia). Even if half the show is bespotted with the recent album, tickets are worth it for the rare chance to hear timeless, nearly-perfect Talking Heads songs and better tracks from Byrne's solo discography in their live glory. —Reid Kurkerewicz