March 28, 1986

Anderson shows the essence of pop amid hi-tech legerdemain

Very few performance artists have made the leap to pop with such spectacular success as Laurie Anderson whose concert in Adelaide’s Festival Theatre opened her Australian tour and coincides with the release of her newest album, Home of the Brave.

All of the paradoxes of Anderson’s achievements are evident in her opening monologue, Progress. The eclectic, hi -tech relativism of her work exactly mirrors the processes she rails against as heartless progress. Anderson’s is a triumph of style – it is the very essence of pop, finding the most appealing musical and aural effects to suggest meanings which never quite compute.

So the overall effect of her show is curiously inert, like a live video clip- a form now notorious for its mischievous parataxis. Anderson’s work is technological legerdemain and because it uniquely combines a pop concert with the highest production values of theatre, the result is compelling for audiences.

The show consists of tapes and pre-programmed material- that haunting, melancholic, mantric sound that is Anderson’s signature – overlaid by vocals, keyboards and other treated sounds produced by Anderson beating parts of her body, thrumming on microphone stands and even, it seems, the boards of the stage itself.

As she literally mics her own body, Anderson becomes an electronic hand· maiden, vulnerable and spikily elvish as the gigantic screen behind her projects animations, action replays and visual cliches – all the unprocessed data that simultaneously means more and less than it should.

The best moments are familiar pieces such as the memorable Big Science. Gravity’s Angel and the witty anti-love song, Sweaters, and new ones such as Baby Doll with splendid back-up vocals from Phillip Ballou and Bennie Diggs.

So much of Anderson’s appeal is in the way she co-opts the most familiar American pop – it is like a monologue from the Shangri La’s run through a vocoder – and her use of musicians such as Peter Gabriel nicely located her concern for musical accessibility.

This is the strength of Anderson’s work and why, finally, her work is so unobjectionable. She does not just comment on pop, she is pop. When we see footage of her dancing with William Burroughs, it is her last tango with the avant garde.

The staging of Anderson’s show is a tribute to the performer and lighting designer, Patricia Connors, and to projectionist James Hobberman. There are no glitches, no glaring into the foldback, no rock-and-roll tantrums.

Instead, Anderson and keyboard player, David LeBolt close the show with O Superman – still her most perfect composition with its chilling augury of peril – and the credits roll on the screen like a movie.
There is, of course no encore. The price of this impeccable performance is that the product is hermetically sealed – like airline food in heaven.

Murray Bramwell

The National Times, March 28, 1986, p.33.

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