Laurie Anderson probably could have had a career in comedy if she wanted. Her subtle and playful humor last night definitely balanced the ominous atmospheres and dark low end that washed around many of the sections of her performance. At one point, she joked about how when Paul Revere was on his famous ride crying out, "The British are coming!" many who heard him probably thought, "Aren't we all British? What's he yelling about?" She then noted how over two hundred years later that since the enemy was not coming, we concluded that we must be the enemy.
Before Anderson took the stage, it was strewn with electronic tea candles that cast an orange glow on the rest of the stage, which was flooded in red light. To the left side was a cushioned chair next to a screen upon which was projected a grey pattern. The sounds of crickets in the summer floated through the room. When Anderson came on, she played her violin through some of kinds of processing that made it sound colossal and deep with a rumbling low end. At this point, the stage lights turned blue with points of orange light from the candles for an effect that made the whole scene more vibrant. Anderson then spoke and her deep, but unmistakably feminine, voice cut through the atmospheric background tones.
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Anderson told us she'd been reading a book about evolution and how Darwin said the peacock tail made him sick. And from there, she treated us to a narrative about the Victorian era and how science was a threat to the Catholic religion because if there were other planets like ours maybe there would be other Popes and which one would be the true Pope? Anderson then deftly wove that narrative into the idea of calling the planet we live on Dirt. Because "it's organic and funky like us." As she spoke, Anderson sometimes manipulated her electronics and played violin at once for a sort of multi-tasking that not many other musicians or artists in general do.
During a mostly spoken interlude, Anderson said that if we didn't have regrets, we wouldn't have any music. Because, "Like the great Willie Nelson said, 'Everyone ends up with the wrong person.'" Later on, she talked about the progress bar for a download and said, "Wouldn't it be great to have the progress bar for everyday life situations like conversations?" Then joked about various situations in which that might come in handy when talking with friends, family, co-workers and strangers.
One of the goofiest and most endearing parts of the show came when Anderson sat down in the chair and told us she would show us some drawings done by her twelve-year-old rat terrier Lolabelle. Was she joking about her dog learning to improv with samples and synth? About making art? Hard to say but Anderson did show us a couple of videos of Lolabelle playing the keys.
Anderson later regaled us with a story of how a friend was some kind of conceptual artist who sawed his house in half, and how people had written about his art, but didn't think maybe it had something to do with his parents' divorce or his brother jumping out the window of that house to his death. Further that Tibetan Buddhists believed that animals go to spend 49 days in a bardo before passing on to the next life. And that the sense of hearing is the last to go so that priests tell you, "You're dead!" so you're not confused in your passage out of this world.
Then Anderson revealed that she believes in magic math and that most people are superstitious in some way. To give an example of this, Anderson asked us, point blank, "Would you wear the sweater of a serial killer?" Most people probably wouldn't, but also wouldn't be able to state a good reason why.
In the last part of the show, Anderson told us she had what was called a pillow speaker, and that she had always wanted to sing like a violin and with the device she would be able to. Then she did it. She joked before the demonstration about how she put it under her pillow to do things like learning to speak German, but that it never worked for her because she just woke up feeling paranoid. From the violin sound, she shifted to a kind of white noise wind by changing the settings. Then she picked up her violin and the synth came washing back in with what sounded like a reprise of the music from the beginning of the show -- the dark sound that felt like it was transporting you into a space outside of normal reality.
She ended the show with a collection of short pieces, the longest of which was about how the great perfumes were made so through false memories. Then she told us a story about a Paris of the imagination and how maybe now we felt like Paris was the place we missed like no other place we've never been to. And that the French loved America at some point in the 1800s and made ballets and other cultural artifacts for America and with America as the inspiration.
This blended into a fantasy about being a troubadour in the middle ages, with a heavy beat in the background and the violin came back in for a heady passage of music to end the show. But the crowd wanted more and Anderson came back and did one of her joking but appreciative, short violin pieces as a gesture of thanks for a receptive and enthusiastic crowd.
Personal Bias: I've been a fan of Laurie Anderson's since becoming more than passively conscious of her work over twenty years ago.
Random Detail: Before the show, the core Communikey Festival organizers made some announcements with Matt Krall doing most of the talking alongside Lauren Higgins. They kept it brief but who wouldn't be excited to be presenting a show like this?
By the Way: It's refreshing when kids are at a show and they're quiet when the performance is going on. Thanks for that.
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