There was some irony when David Byrne played his new single, “Everybody’s Coming to My House,” last night for a crowd in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The former Talking Heads frontman had, in fact, come to their house— a handsome Art Deco theater, the F.M. Kirby Center— for the second show of his first solo tour since 2009. He’ll sing “home is where I want to be” many times before he returns to New York to play the Panorama festival on July 29. [Update, March 6: Byrne just added shows at Forest Hills Stadium on 9/15 and Kings Theatre on 9/17.]
Luzerne County, where Wilkes-Barre is located, has been treated by sundry news outlets as a sort of case study for Trumpism, since it broke for Obama during his two presidential campaigns but flipped for Trump in 2016. No surprise, then, that as I drove to the show yesterday, I passed a billboard with Trump’s grinning face on it, imploring passersby to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.
As the home of Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre tends to be more liberal than its rural surroundings, but it’s also a former coal town. Those seated around me wore baseball hats and flannel shirts, and seemed more likely to drive pickup trucks than keep bicycle diaries.
Maybe that’s why part of me thought Uh-oh when Byrne launched into a somber new ballad that began, “The judge was all hungover when the president took the stand / So he didn’t really notice when things got out of hand.”
With a spare, almost ambient instrumental backing, Byrne described the unnamed president telling the press what to say: “There’s a photo opportunity / And then they’re sent away / To a place where nothing matters / Where the wheels of progress turn / Where reality is fiction / But the dogs show no concern.”
Byrne has called Trump a racist, criticized his proposed cuts to the arts, and even made a playlist of music from so-called “shithole” countries. So it would seem safe to assume the song is a direct attack on the current president. But Byrne has also said that a lot of the songs on American Utopia were “written before the Trump election. So, although they seem to resonate with a lot of what has been happening in the last year, they were written before that.”
Either way, when you listen to the rest of “Dog’s Mind” (NPR is currently streaming the song along with the rest of the new album), it’s easy to see those blissfully ignorant dogs as a metaphor for politically oblivious types. Especially given that, after finishing the song last night, Byrne announced that there would be voter registration tables at future shows. “I’ve been reading things recently that people turn out—hm, well sort of— for presidential elections, big elections like that,” Byrne told the crowd. “But for mid-terms and other elections for electing local representatives—Senate, House, local state representatives—people tend to not consider it as important.”
With that, a woman in the crowd yelled, “We’re coming for you!”
That cry was presumably a warning to any Trumpers in the audience. But if they were there last night, I didn’t see any of them walk out in a huff, the way some Pink Floyd fans did on Roger Waters. Truth is, it was hard to do anything but dance to Byrne and his diverse band of about a dozen musicians, who sang and played their wireless instruments standing up (yes, even the drummers and keyboardists) while shuffling, marching, gesturing, hot-stepping all over the stage in a loosely choreographed manner.
While the audience mostly remained seated during the new songs, they sprang to their feet for Talking Heads classics like “This Must Be the Place,” “Once in a Lifetime,” “I Zimbra,” “Slippery People” and “Burning Down the House.” Byrne also dusted off some of his collaborations with Fatboy Slim (“Toe Jam,” “Dancing Together”) and St. Vincent (“I Should Watch TV”).
Anyone hoping for a Talking Heads closer like “Psycho Killer” or “Take Me to the River” may have initially been disappointed when the second and final encore turned out to be a cover of “Hell You Talmbout,” Janelle Monáe’s protest song that amounts to a fierce roll call of some of the black Americans who have been killed by police officers and vigilantes. The song “came out three years ago,” Byrne said. “Sadly, it’s still very relevant.” The message was clear: stop the doggy dreaming and do something.