A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 212 – Home of the Brave: A Film by Laurie Anderson

Home of the Brave: A Film by Laurie Anderson – September 28th, 2010

I had never heard of Laurie Anderson before I met Andy. This was clearly something that had to be rectified and in short order I’d heard a few of her pieces and fallen in love with her bizarre mix of singing, spoken word and eerie instrumentals. But I was also fairly limited in my options for obtaining music. This is pre-Napster, okay? My family’s internet connection at the time was the super 1337 dial-up AOL where one got an hour a day and then paid through the nose for every minute thereafter. I was not downloading performance art music to my family’s ancient PC. I was borrowing it from friends and buying the one CD the local Strawberries had in stock: Bright Red. And I listened to it over and over and over. I could probably recite Puppet Motel from memory on the spot if asked (alas, no one ever has) and to this day I can’t read any version of the Owl and the Pussycat out loud at work because of Anderson’s rendition in Beautiful Pea Green Boat. But neither of those are in this concert. I’m just illustrating a point, which is that I adore Anderson and find her work fascinating, so I was incredibly thrilled when we got ourselves a copy of Home of the Brave.

You need to understand something about Laurie Anderson, and that’s that she isn’t strictly a musician. She’s a performance artist. And I don’t mean the sort of pretentious performance art they make fun of in The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged). I mean the sort of performance art where she takes brilliant music and combines it with visuals and spoken pieces and dance and melds it all into something where the music isn’t the only point of the show. There are chunks of the show with almost no music at all. And Anderson wants to entertain, but also wants to provoke. And in my opinion she succeeds at both.

There’s a wide variety of pieces in this concert. They vary from fairly normal songs to instrumentals to dances to experimental sounds and often they segue from one to the other before you know what’s happened. A short spoken piece about being annoyed by a bug while you’re trying to write gives way to an instrumental piece where a string instrument is played with a fork and knife (and it sounds amazing, so I won’t criticize it for being a gimmick). Anderson takes a moment to call her keyboard player on the phone while they’re both on stage and the two chat for a bit about nothing in particular until the keyboard player excuses herself, since she’s kind of busy and in the middle of a concert. There’s the Drum Dance, where Anderson plays drum pads in her suit by dancing and tapping them. There’s a folktale and a game show and some sampled William S. Borroughs played on a special electric violin modified to play MIDI files when the bow touches the strings. It’s a little all over the place, but that’s Laurie Anderson.

If I had to name a theme for this concert I think I’d say it’s about communication. It’s not so obvious in every piece, but it keeps coming back. Many of my favorite bits from the concert tie into it, so maybe that colors my perception. Zero and One is a spoken piece at the beginning of the show and features Laurie Anderson in a mask reminiscent of El Santo, her voice electronically modified, lecturing the audience about binary and showing them lots of ones and zeroes. When we got the VHS of this concert we popped it in to make sure it was in good shape and I was shocked and amused to realize how much of Anderson’s performance with the voice modification reminded me of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight Returns. It’s bizarre. But that’s how things start, with some talk about communication and the representation of language and computers and then some cultural stuff too, going into doing away with the negative and positive meanings for zero and one, respectively. It’s a great way to really get things going after an instrumental introduction.

My other favorites are the aforementioned Drum Dance, which isn’t precisely earth shattering but is a quirky little piece and done very well. Anderson just seems to have so much fun playing with sound and movement. I also love Smoke Rings, which begins with a game show and is frequently referenced in our home. Que es mas macho? Pineapple? Or knife? Smoke Rings was the first Anderson song I ever heard. It was on a mix tape Andy had when I met him and I listened to it endlessly. Late Show is another communication piece, using a quote from William S. Burroughs (who appears in the concert) and the MIDI violin to great effect, repeating the word “listen” over and over. I have a fondness for Sharkey’s Day and have since the first time I saw this concert while I was in college (we had a copy at the video store we worked at). And then near the end we get Sharkey’s Night, which has more of the voice modification. Before that there’s Language is a Virus, which obviously plays into the communication theme, and Difficult Listening Hour (as opposed to easy listening), which just amuses me.

There are plenty of other fantastic parts to the concert, of course. Anderson cavorts around the stage and is obviously having a grand time presenting her vision for everyone watching, but she’d got a great crew to back her up. Her back-up vocalists are fantastic, getting into the whole performance, and the same goes for her keyboard player, who has a wonderful 80s punk hairdo going on. All of the other musicians and performers seem to be totally keyed in on Anderson’s aesthetic and mood. The stage is bathed in blue light and the set pieces are minimal. The scrim in the back of the stage is used a lot, but people move in front of it all the time anyhow. It doesn’t seem like a bad thing, just part of the show to have things always moving and going.

Of course this isn’t a typical concert. It seems low key compared to something like Pulse, or even the small venue TMBG we’ve been to. It’s got more people on stage than Weird Al Yankovic Live! but seems more subdued most of the time. And yet it’s engaging and impressive all the same. Mostly, I think, because Anderson is the type of artist who can fill a stage on her own, and then she goes and fills it with other impressive artists as well, because she can, and because it makes the show that much stranger and that much better.

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September 28, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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