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CD Review

Laurie Anderson

Live at Town Hall, New York City - September 19-20, 2001

Laurie Anderson, vocals, violin, keyboards
Skúli Sverrison, bass, concertina
Jim Black, drums, electronic percussion
Peter Scherer, keyboards, samplers
Nonesuch 79681-2 DDD 2CDs: 37:40, 57:25
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"Freedom is a scary thing. So precious. So easy to lose." Barely a week after two hijacked jets crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, causing the death of thousands of people, Laurie Anderson's words raised a chill of recognition in her audience. They continue to do so. Then again, Anderson always has had the ability to invest uncomplicated words with complicated meanings. A "popular" musician only because there is no satisfactory category to contain her, Laurie Anderson appeals to many of the same people who appreciate avant-garde classical music. (In spite of her signature deadpan monologues, I think of her as an edgier Meredith Monk, a suggestion, I must add, that Monk politely rejected when I interviewed her several years ago!)

This live concert is a mixture of the old and new. Originally, it was Anderson's intention to highlight material from her latest studio album, Life on a String, but she decided to revisit her old work when she found that the songs on Life on a String did not blend well with the spoken stories she tells at her concerts. Indeed, "Let X=X," "Sweaters," and the (in)famous "O Superman" are what brought Anderson to the world's attention some two decades ago. The latter speaks to the United States's place in the world as strongly now as during the Iran-Contra affair, which was in the news when the song was written. One can practically feel the audience suck in its collective breath as Anderson revisits statements such as "Here come the planes. They're American planes. Made in America." Anderson is no Cassandra, but she is a woman whose keen and critical ear can use a generation's most banal phrases and predicaments to a hold a mirror up to its anomie. At several points in this concert (notably "Pieces and Parts" and "Strange Angels"), the otherwise stoic Anderson seems ready to burst into tears, if the tremor in her voice is to be believed. Live albums often disappoint, but history stepped in and set the stage for a most moving and evocative evening… and for an equally moving and evocative pair of CDs.

Part raconteuse, part avant-garde musician, and part social commentator, Laurie Anderson provides nourishment to a diverse audience with equal measures of irony and tenderness. Live at Town Hall is an excellent place to begin, if you have not yet explored her work.

Copyright © 2003, Raymond Tuttle