Live: Laurie Anderson Brings Her Delusion To BAM
Theories on the afterlife, and how many times you die. Photos by Rahav Segev courtesy of BAM, more below.
Laurie Anderson BAM/Harvey Theater Tuesday, September 21
Better Than: Hearing anyone else on earth talk about their dreams.
Laurie Anderson should be legally required to provide the voice for every audiobook, ever. As an instrument, it's just perfect: wise and bewildered, cutting and soothing, deadly serious and profoundly amusing. Every syllable of every word cuts like a machete. The downtown avant-garde (and Mermaid Parade!) queen will spend the next couple weeks holding court at BAM for Delusion, a new multimedia work of sublime bewilderment, a "series of short mystery plays" presenting in a music/video/spoken-word conflagration that's a little slow and sleepy, but appropriately so, as often Anderson is simply listing the daffy shit she dreams about.
Such as: She's on a talk show to promote a book she doesn't remember writing. She's served penguin in a restaurant. There is an unfinished cheese sculpture of a set of stairs in the middle of her loft. A company approaches her about digitizing her archives and storing them in living plants. She is suddenly terribly self-conscious about her "clown nose." And so on. This from a running series of bizarre vignettes, some available on CD via this year's excellent Homeland, delivered between bursts of avant-garde electro-dirge, Anderson sawing her electric violin and backed by two guys on viola and various ornate horns, respectively, mostly cast in silhouette. The stage is sparse, an enormous video screen behind her and two smaller ones flanking her, along with a weird projected blob/loveseat she rests on occasionally as she alternately calms us down and freaks us out.
Other topics: the death of her mother, the origins of the Russian space program, who really owns the Moon, why animals with beards "project a sort of confidence," theories on the afterlife ("your creators are very small, very stupid purple worms"), and how you die three times: when your heart stops beating, when you're buried, and the last time someone says your name. Her electronically pitch-shifted, booming-voiced male alter-ego, Fenway Bergamot (here's his Facebook page), makes several appearances, moaning about the decline of the American empire, making you feel like you're Darth Vader's therapist. The part where "he" sings "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" is super creepy.
How any of this connects is debatable, beyond the allure of how it's delivered. "I wanna tell you a story... about a story." "There's something very familiar about... Iceland." She can improvise, too: When technical difficulties require an unplanned 10-minute intermission to "reboot the sound system," she simply walks back out onstage and remarks, "What an interesting... evening." You follow her even when you're not following. The video component is little help there, a fittingly dreamlike naturalistic jumble: rain, leaves, plumes of smoke, the moon. Ninety minutes of this is plenty; for an encore, Anderson returns and, eventually joined by her two accompanists, does a simple electro-folk jam, no video trickery or deep thoughts driving it, and the clarity is a great relief. Not that clarity is a particular of interest of hers, but there's few people out there who can act more charming in the act of confusing the hell out of you.
Critical Bias: Love Homeland, though bummed there's no place in this show for "Only an Expert."
Overheard: Lou Reed talking about how much he hates Susan Boyle. (Just kidding, but he was there.)
Random Notebook Dump: The dream where she gives birth to her dog while snuggling under a blanket on the blog/loveseat is hard to deal with.
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