“Oh, yes. I have become that person,” responded David Byrne to Stephen Colbert’s description of the legendary rocker’s distinguished grey and turtleneck look for last night’s Late Show appearance. And while the 69-year-old former Talking Heads frontman and current Broadway superstar does, indeed, look a little like your coolest high school drama teacher at this point in his career, Colbert showed that Byrne’s brain is still as weird and whimsical as ever, producing some pandemic-era drawings Byrne’s been making during his downtime. (The one called “Livin’ In My Head,” depicting a symmetrically deadpan dwelling on a lonely hill, does capture something of Byrne’s essence, honestly.)
For all his accomplished doodling, noted art school dropout Byrne has still been plenty busy, sharing with Colbert his astonishment that his 2018 Late Show appearance promoting the then just-an-album, American Utopia, would end up the smash hit of a reopened Broadway. Telling Colbert that he’d just been minding his business while touring with the lavish and acclaimed concert tour for the album when word started filtering back to him about some impresarios’ interest in mounting a Broadway show, Byrne remained happily surprised that said scuttlebutt turned out to be real. Now with not only Broadway hit but an outstanding, Spike Lee-directed film of American Utopia out there in the world, Byrne told Colbert that, for a Rock & Roll Hall Of Famer (and future EGOT-getter) getting up there in years, the idea of the tour coming to him (rather than him hitting the road) has its marginally less taxing benefits.
Of course, there are tradeoffs. As Byrne confessed, it’s easier to feed off of a concert crowd, what with all the dancing and gesticulations, while the average, seat-bound Broadway audience’s enthusiasm has to be measured by how energetically patrons are nodding along in approval. “They’ve got some really comfy seats,” explained Byrne, telling Colbert that there’s more of a gradual wooing process in getting the theater crowd to loosen up. As Colbert noted, however, if there’s anyone who can translate live performance energy to stage and film, it’s Byrne, who now has two of the best concert movies ever (Jonathan Demme’s legendary direction of Stop Making Sense being the other) to his credit.
Still and all, with the 57-year-old Colbert nursing a sore back, Byrne was understanding about fans who need a bit less rock in their roll, standing up to teach Colbert a few dance moves for the aging concertgoer. Calling to Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste for “a little groove,” Byrne walked Colbert through such low-impact moves as the “polish the plates,” and the “stop the traffic.” Mainly consisting of muted hand gestures, Byrne yet made the ensuing routine look cool, as is his way, with the ailing Colbert ably (yet gingerly) mixing in some improvised steps. Byrne might have taken it easy in deference to whippersnapper Colbert, but he then busted out his signature indefatigable showmanship alongside his American Utopia castmates for a thrillingly kinetic performance of “I Zimbra.” (Introducing the repurposed Talking Heads number with a history lesson about Dadaism, Byrne did still come off like your coolest drama teacher, even if he didn’t dance like one.)