I guess the atrium of the Perimeter Institute has improved a bit since the first concert I saw there, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, which featured very uncomfortable lawn chairs. This, this concert had real hard-back chairs. Not that I got to sit on one- I had a standing-room ticket, upstairs. Mezzanine. The whole 2nd floor was open, and there were only 40 standing-room tickets, so we each got a fair bit of space to ourselves.
Pluses: Unobstructed view: at the beginning I was standing less than 10 feet from Laurie Anderson. Straight up.
Minuses: We weren't allowed to lean on the glass railing, which I kept forgetting. And the top of a performer's head turns out to not be as exciting as seeing the front of her face. Also, I saw her glance upward once and realized it might actually be disconcerting to have audience perched just over-top of oneself.
So I moved back to 20 feet away, where I stayed for the rest of the show. It wasn't bad, even standing, and there was lots of room for me to sit on the floor, which I did for a while.
The acoustics were fine; possibly slightly less amplified, but that wasn't a problem. Fortunately, I also didn't find there were any annoying echoes in the big space.
The concert was 90 minutes. She started with her signature pitch-bended electric violin (which in the late 70's was a "tape bow violin"- with recorded magnetic tape as the bow, and a magnetic tape head as the bridge; though I don't expect that's still how it works). She alternated between instrumental-only pieces, some which I liked quite a lot, and spoken-word over instrumental and keyboard loops. Some of her spoken-word was pitch-bended into her trademark growling bass voice, which she has called audio drag or "the Voice of Authority." That voice matched her appearance- she was dressed up way butch, with spiky hair, a thin tie and dark suit, though the Voice didn't really say things of much authority- and she had a perfectly commanding presence with her own voice.
Lighting was quite dark: there were mood lights of various primary colours, and candles on the stage. She told stories. Very modern stories, simply told, many of them compelling, though I didn't feel like they hung together as a whole (more on that at the end). This is apparently the start of a new tour, "Another Day in America," which started last week in Calgary, and we were lucky enough to be the second city on the tour. I imagine it will evolve as it goes.
She spoke about the National Defense Authorization Act which Obama just signed on New Years Eve, which allows indefinite detention without trial of American citizens in military prisons. She noted that this piece of law centers on a redefinition of "battleground" to include all of the United States. And what does it mean to choose to bring the battleground to one's home? "We've been waiting a couple hundred years for the enemy to show up, and since they never did, we decided maybe it’s us."
She spoke about how annoyed Darwin had been with peacocks- "what could possibly be fittest about a giant bright blue tail?" and jumps to how the Catholic church has been afraid of science- and what if the Church was most afraid that we'd find many worlds, with other popes? Which pope would be the real pope? Perhaps one with the brightest, bluest tail?
She told about visiting one of the many tent-cities in the US which started during the housing crisis, which collectively have housed thousands of Americans over the last years. I have to say I thought she'd veered to the fictional, but google and wikipedia tell me the camp she visited is exactly as described.
Her beloved rat-terrier Lolabelle died this spring, on Palm Sunday; she told how the Tibetian Book of the Dead says when a living being dies, it will spend 49 days in a place called the Bardo, before it is reincarnated. And Lolabelle died 49 days before Anderson's birthday. She goes on to say that when Lolabelle went blind a few years ago, Anderson began teaching her to play the piano, and to paint; and then she shared a dozen of Lolabelle's paintings, and a video of her playing the keyboard (wagging, and barking in joy as she did so).
The last time I saw her, in Ithaca in 2006, she had just spent time as NASA's first (and last) Artist in Residence. She also had stories about Lolabelle, one which has stuck with me, about a walk in the woods when a hawk dive-bombs them and the dog realizes there's 180 degrees of the world she had never imagined could be dangerous- which turns into a parallel story about the US post-9/11. Really sharp stuff.
So, on the whole. I wish this concert had tied together more. I could feel the authority with which she was speaking, and maybe it's up to the listener to pull things together, but the way it was structured, I didn't find myself able to do so during the concert. Perhaps some of that pulling together can happen when I'm in Quaker Meeting this weekend.
I'm quite glad the PI was able to get her here- they have been trying for years. Perhaps she will be back! I would not mind that, no.
 So, how I got a ticket. If you are allergic to twitter, you won't want to read this. Just sayin'.
I found out about the concert from someone tweeting about it on Monday. I tweeted an "Aw, how come I just found out about this sold-out show?" After a bit of whinging to friends, I forgot about it. I had a faint hope to show up at the venue and see if there were unclaimed tickets.
But on Wednesday evening, I checked twitter and noticed somebody I didn't know had specifically sent me a message asking if I needed a ticket. I replied, but it had been 6 hours after he had asked, and he had also gotten re-tweeted by the Perimeter when he previously if anybody needed a ticket. ... and yet, somehow, nobody had; all of his friends who would have jumped at the chance lived in Toronto or New York or elsewhere. So Thursday morning, he came to my office and sold me his ticket at-cost! How cool is that?