David Byrne appeared remotely on Late Night with Seth Meyers on Monday to discuss living in New York City during the ’70s, a forthcoming art book, and his American Utopia Broadway show currently running in a COVID-inflected format at St. James Theatre.
American Utopia, which was the first topic of conversation, recently saw an adjustment due to a rising number of COVID-19 cases within the company, band, and crew. Byrne gave ticket-holders the option to request refunds or attend what he dubbed American Utopia: Unchained, a stripped-down, modified show with a skeleton crew of performers. The first “Unchained” performance came on Tuesday, December 28th, and saw a totally different setlist—including several Talking Heads songs that Byrne hadn’t played live in years—without much of the choreography and theatrics that accompany traditional American Utopia shows.
“I think audiences really liked it. It was not slick and perfect,” Byrne told the the Late Night host. “There were times where I had to stop and ask the band, ‘Who starts this song?’ And the audience loved that! They would applaud for stuff like that.”
Seth Meyers then asked about audience engagement, as that had been an important aspect of these performances before the new format, to which Byrne explained, “They are getting up and dancing, even to this kind of unplugged version that we’re doing … It says something about audiences; That they really want to be together. They really want to… express themselves, and dance, and have a good time.”
Related: David Byrne’s ‘American Utopia: Unchained’ Performance Features Rare Songs, Modified Setlist [Videos]
After discussing specific wardrobe choices—like wearing gray suits and no shoes—and his friendship with Spike Lee, the conversation pivoted to living in New York City during the ’70s and the tribulations that came along with that situation. Meyers asked his guest to tell the audience one thing about 1970s New York that was worse than today, and Byrne didn’t know where to begin.
“I can tell you a lot of things that are worse,” said Byrne, evoking laughter from the studio. “There was this law that got passed in New York … It was called the pooper-scooper law. And, for those people who don’t remember or weren’t around, they used to let dogs… well, poop right on the sidewalk and the owner would just walk on … So if you were walking around in New York, you had to be looking down all the time.”
Before Meyers concluded the interview, Byrne detailed a forthcoming book of art that will contain many of his drawings created during the pandemic. “As I think happened to a lot of people during the pandemic, we were sometimes prohibited from doing the things that we normally do,” said Byrne. “Some of us took up cooking or making bread, and I started drawing. And, to some extent, I think the drawings kind of reflected the turmoil that was going through not just my head, but I assume other people’s heads too.”
Watch the entire interview via the video player below and head here for more clips from Monday’s episode of Late Night with Seth Meyers. David Byrne will continue his American Utopia: Unchained performances this week, with shows on January 5th–9th. Head to the American Utopia website for tickets and additional show information.
David Byrne Interview on Late Night with Seth Meyers