If you attended or read about the Adrian Belew Painting With Guitar show at the World Café Live July 1st, you saw or read about posters for the Laurie Anderson Another Day In America show. This show was only advertised at the Belew concert, World Café Live was banking on the fact that they could draw from Belew’s audience to help fill the room for Anderson. Belew had worked with Anderson on some projects so the logic was sound.
Anderson didn’t need the help.
They even set the seating up to accommodate a more attentive, mature and dare I say it, refined crowd. There was less open space, three rows of seats, a couple of rows of tables, and then the remaining usual seating around the bar and in the upper mezzanine. I managed to get some front row seats and a photo pass for this show, so get ready, with my trusty photographer and my abysmal narrative, I will take you through…
Another Day In America.
Gonna be a killer show.
I see a set-up for three people, who would turn out to be Rob Burger, Anderson and Bill Laswell (an awesome surprise). Part of Anderson’s set-up is her tiny violin. In terms of seating at a show, this is the closest I have been. I remember mentioning during the review of the album supported by this tour, Homeland, that I met Ms. Anderson after her show at the Prince Theater for Happiness.
Another Day In America will most likely not be as light-hearted as the previous tour’s title might suggest. With the way the country is deteriorating, Another Day In America brings her optimistic nihilistic view of United States survivalism to the World Café Live. As I mentioned, the audience is older, Anderson is older, I am older. I expect sophistication from this group. I can hear the dorks behind me getting ready to yell for “O Superman” much like the “boozy old flirts” who yell for “Freebird”.
Flameless candles are brought out to line the front of the stage. We laugh as they start to disrobe of their covers revealing battery powered flickering light bulbs. Funny.
Anderson emerges alone and puts on her violin. She starts her show with “The Beginning Of Memory”. I can hear her voice as loudly acoustically from her mouth as well as from the PA. So sparse, so haunting. As the dynamic builds, she is joined on stage by Burger and Laswell. At this point Anderson triggers the backing track and wails on harmonized violin. Burger works the accordion and keyboards while Laswell triggers a loop that shakes the venue.
Anderson works her midi controller like a mad scientist. Pushing trigger buttons until the piece melds right into the opening track from the album, “Transitory Life”. Her voice is in excellent shape.
Laswell begins making all sorts of noises as, at times, Anderon seems entranced. All the while Burger is wailing on accordion. One stroke of Anderson’s violin bow sounds like an entire string section.
Once this song and the audience quiet down, a beat box intro picks up “Only An Expert”. If you recall my review of her album, THIS track is my favorite and I and my intrepid best-thing-to-ever-happen-to-me photographer were bobbing our heads and feet and singing along to the lyrics. We were stoked to hear this live, little did we know that a couple of days later we would see Anderson, Burger and Laswell (as well as some supplemental performers) perform this track on The Late Show with David Letterman. If you missed Anderson’s tour, try to find some clips on YouTube, her performances on this tour have been extraordinarily exciting, yet not lacking in intensity, tension and something most performers fear, Anderson embraces SILENCE!
There is little silence in “Only An Expert” except when Anderson and company strike strategically placed breaks among the instruments, some stopping, some playing to accentuate phrasing, inferences, and usually around the word ‘problem’.
Admittedly the live version is not as techno as the CD version, but for a live trio, this track still smokes and even includes Reed’s sampled guitar. This version is “Andersonized”, the breaks were more fragmented and even without the additional keyboards, I loved this version. Frankly Burger is doing quite well at adding the club keyboards, the unfortunate part was the guitar samples were buried in the mix. They are sweet parts, too. Other than those minor complaints, I would have to say this was a phenomenal version, dealt with……………………………………………………………..expertly.
Taking it down many notches, we now witness the appearance of Fenway Bergamot (Anderson’s pitched-down vocal alter ego, see last post’s review of Homeland) to talk about everything that’s going on in America. Even some things that happened after the record was made. From improbable odds to, of course, BP, and the future. She does alter the words from the CD version, and we notice she needs a lyric sheet to help her remember the words. Lots of words. Rapper quantity words. But words that are no less stark, depressing or any less of a depiction of “Another Day In America”.
There’s trouble out at the mine… we all came running.
Laswell leaves altogether for “The Lake”. A very skint song performed perfectly. During one of the quiet breaks, shortly before the end, I was immediately reminded of the Residents. From “The Lake” she transitions to “A Dark Time In The Revolution”.
By the way, I do hope if you are looking for more detailed descriptions of the songs, you can refer back to my review of the album for comparisons, further descriptions and accounts.
Anderson has confessed to having a most unique way of counting time. She likes to interpret unusual time signatures as forms of dance. Apparently Anderson had a timing block in one portion of the song as she did a quick dance to count her time and Burger and Laswell read Anderson’s dance time perfectly.
We’re not dancing, we are listening, appreciating.
The end chorus of “Dark Time In The Revolution” is huge, the dynamic exploding.
Anderson interrupts the applause to start a chilling version of “Bodies In Motion”. Another of Anderson’s difficult drum parts rises up. While Burger keeps his emotions in check, Laswell is a joy to watch.
When I’m not entranced with Anderson.
Some rhythmic chirping introduces a change in the song. Laswell is destroying the house PA with sheer power. After Anderson contributes the violin, that track dies away to allow Anderson to introduce the band members, Burger and Laswell. Then in between songs, I notice again that Burger is changing out what appear to be clear records into the lower keyboard device.
More on that later.
Then, as nearly as I can figure, they go back to “Another Day In America” part two. The reference to the old couple who stayed married into their nineties for the sake of the children brought the house down. This brings me to an observation I had made at this point. The audience was not familiar with any of these pieces. It is as if they came to see her and had no idea she had a new CD available. Also, there were no songs from previous albums, only some tracks from Homeland. So unless you had the CD you did not know any of the tracks she performed. I can’t say that is a bad or good thing. Just doesn’t happen every day. With an artist like Anderson, her releases are kind of an event in art-music circles.
For these live tracks, the majority of midi instruments were triggered by buttons on Anderson’s controller keyboard.
A fairly techno beat takes over, Laswell joins and Anderson takes to violin. She plays against a delay, huge sounding but the end. At that point she throws us kisses and says good night. I and the rest of the crowd want more. They do come out for a bow and all return offstage. Anderson returns solo for “Flow”, the final track of the CD. The piece is woeful yet Anderson looks quite content. She concludes the morose-sounding part, waves and blows kisses, she is gone.
Lights come up and I have a couple questions. After a brief period, I am able to approach Ron Burger and talk to him about the instrument the Orchestron. Turns out he was inserting and removing clear acetates that contained the patches or instrument voices, whatever the Orchestron sounded like originated from these discs. Similar to the concept of a Mellotron, but instead of lugging a bar full of reels of tape, it was like slipping a giant clear CD-ROM into a drive. Burger then went on to reveal that there are only 50 of these instruments in existence. It was quite cool to be so close to something so rare, thank you to Mr. Burger for filling me in on the Orchestron!
Figuring I was this far on stage anyway, I figured I would wander backstage to see what was shaking. My photographer/best-thing-to-ever-happen-to-me/fan and I meandered backstage and found Bill Laswell. I introduced myself to him and tried not to get too gushy, hell this guy was there when Anderson first started! I make sure I give my cards to Burger, Laswell, and in Ms. Anderson’s absence, gave it to someone I figured would give it to her, her husband Lou Reed.
A surreal day beginning with a plumber, a backhoe in my front yard, the show, driving though pouring rain, then being greeted in my home town by fireworks, to only have the surrealism of the day finalized with an email in my inbox from the good folks at Adrian Belew Presents and The Online Audio School looking for the photos of Belew show.
It never stops.