Laurie Anderson’s Delusion at BAM

Laurie Anderson opens her new show, Delusion, with the words, “I want to tell you a story” and closes with the words of (or perhaps to) her dying mother, “Did you ever really love me?” To get from the beginning to the end, Anderson uses a series of spoken word vignettes and surreal stories to chart a dreamlike path through her life both imagined and real.

Anderson is the queen of the epigram and the meaningful pause, each story has a takeaway line that hovers in the air and lands on the audience where it is received with a chuckle or a knowing nod. And the audience on Tuesday night was full of admirers. Some of the show explored well-worn territory like the American political landscape (“If corporations are individuals, what kind of individuals are they?”) and seemed all-too-familiar. But the presence of her “male” alter ego – Fenway Bergamot – served as as sharp comic foil to Anderson’s more ethereal meditations. Several moments were extremely effective for their simplicity. At several points she just sat on a couch and recounted stories, with very simple accompaniment. She is in Iceland and meets a delusional farmer who reminds her of her father, of her family. She has a dream in which she gives birth to her dog.

But woven throughout the piece are small hints and pieces of stories about how she dealt with the death of her mother – and these simple, human, accessible stories feel more edgy, in some way, than her whimsical tried-and-true meditations on America and life in general. Anderson can seem removed and distant, she’s frequently ironic, detached, amused. But in telling these simple stories of loss, of feeling overwhelmed, of not being able to articulate her feelings, she reveals a person behind the persona. This gives Delusion a surprising, and refreshing, poignancy.

On Tuesday night, about halfway through the show, Anderson said to the audience, “We’re going to take a three minute pause.” Apparently the computers crashed and they had to reboot the whole set-up. I know it wasn’t part of the show but it was sort of a happy accident. Anderson has such a calm, cool facade that when she returned to the stage and bantered a little before returning to the show, it felt like being up close and personal. She seemed warm and gracious as opposed to aloof and amused. It is a tricky balancing act – how to be sincere without being overly earnest, but she managed it and the show went on without further mishap.

For this show Anderson is ably accompanied by violist Eyvind Kang and Colin Stetson on horns to help created the lush soundscapes frequently influenced by the East with Tibetan horns and Arab strings. The soundscapes are matched by beautiful video projections designed – and operated live- by Amy Khoshbin.

I’ve never seen a full-on Laurie Anderson show before, only listened to the music on CDs (LPs, even!) and in small excerpts of performance. It was thrilling to watch someone so clearly accomplished and expert in their form. And even if it seemed familiar at times, the overall effect of the show was hypnotic. Anderson is truly a virtuoso artist. Check it out if you can.

This was the first show of BAM’s 28th Next Wave Festival and I have decided to make a project of seeing as much of the festival as I can. So it’ll be interesting to see how this show fits in with the others and how the season unfurls.

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