I went up to the balcony at McFarlin Auditorium and sat down for the show. All around me were the "cooler than I" thirtyish kids who go to such shows, but I palpably relaxed when I realized I am now so old and uncool as to not have to worry about cool. My friend Scott, who had gotten me a ticket, did not appear. I figure that he decided, after all, not to ditch the candidates' forum that resulted in his wife not being able to go. I watched the show in solitude. The show did not sell out, but the crowd was substantial.
I last saw Laurie Anderson over fifteen years ago, when she did a show which ranged from "Te Es Mas Macho?" through "O Superman" past the human-contact-mike and among all sorts of audio-visuals laced with quirky one-liners. It was a kind of "Greatest Performance Art hits of Laurie Anderson", which was, to me, rather beside the point for a performance artist--a bit like watching the "Music Man", but without anything so enchanting as "Seventy Six Trombones". I enjoyed that show, but it featured a bit much of the "look at me, I'm an artist, I'm showing you" that makes some performance art distancing.
Tonight Ms. Anderson seemed much more at home in her skin, and the intervening years have certainly made me more at home in my skin (which is a good thing, as I think I have more skin now). She combined her great story-telling style with intermittent violin play, in a one-person format heavily dependent on sequencers and all those other new-fangled ways of using orchestrated canned music without it seeming quite canned. The music and atmospherics really worked, a kind of Penguin Cafe Orchestra meets Dvorak meets space music thing. The show was remarkably gimmick free otherwise, except for her use of a nini-vid-cam that would work quite well as a deterrent if hidden on my John Kerry political sign. On second thought, can the invisible deter?
The performance worked so very well. She told great stories derived from her stint as NASA's Artist in Residence. Her absurdist dry wit shone as always, and she painted incredible word pictures. She used her music effectively to give the entire 100 minute performance a continuity and sense of place.
Sometimes, her story-telling seemed almost inward-directed, as if she were speaking to herself. Sometimes, she seemed to be doing a fireside chat. Sometimes, she was the Performer, on stage, hunting new ground. The whole evening was enjoyable. She left, with multiple curtain calls but no encore featuring "O Superman" or even "Free Bird", to the approval of all.
On the drive home, I stopped for gasoline, where I put in 16.73 gallons. As my tank is only a 16 gallon tank, I must have been running on fumes. I listened to the Mingus Big Band on the radio while I rode a surface street, watching stalled and snarled traffic on 75 crawl slowly up, like so many holiday lights.
It was a great night for jazz.
Then a BBC World Service news show did a spot on inner-city troubled Chicago schools and "No Child Left Behind", and I wondered if comprehensive schools in inner city Manchester are now so saturnine that the BBC has time to improve Chicago's efforts at reform. Fish in barrels still make easy shooting, and underfunded inner-city schools make for heart-wrenching radio. I felt on more solid footing when the talk shifted to a test match between Australia and India. I think my sporting life is lessened because I never got a chance to try to hit a century with that odd shaped bat.
Now I've had a diet Root Beer. I am glad to get to see a fine artist in her full maturity. But I think I'll have a second diet Root Beer.