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May 18, 1984 - Image 8

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1984-05-18

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily

Friday, May 18, 1984

Page 8

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By Byron L. Bull
L AURIE ANDERSON'S performance
at the Michigan Theater on
Wednesday night is a hard one to
categorize. It wasn't a performance so
much as a dozen mini-performances in
various genres and media, knitted
together on a stage. There were
elements of a concert, stand-up comed-
cy, avant-garde theater, film, and even
dance, smashed together for an
ingeniously brilliant synthesis. It was
grand entertainment and makes the
Michigan's usual fare of old films and
third-run Broadway road shows pale
and anemic by comparison.
Unlike Anderson's last stage moun-
ted work, The United States, her new
work lacks a central theme. It has a fair
number of pieces from the States incor-
porated into it, as well as all of the
songs from the recent Mister Hear-
tbreak album, and assorted new "sket-
ches" and impressionistic pieces that
may someday end up in some future
megawork of hers. It was an odd mix-
ture of "greatest hits" (to use a vulgar
term) and current experiments, jum-
bled together.
There was a slightly self-indulgent
slant to the whole affair, as Anderson
made an occasional reference to herself
at various times throughout the
evening. I found myself recalling
those Broadway shows in which a
singer/actress now in her twilight
years lumbers through songs from her
old shows, and retells old anecdotes
about her career. Luckily Anderson's

references, such as a parody phone
conversation to her New York art world
friends, had a humorous, self-effacing
slant to them. They served to establish
a warm link between performer and
audience.
Anderson orchestrated the evening
by alternating songs with little, won-
derfully absurd skits and dialogues
where she dominated the stage. Some
were esoteric but had an undefinable
riveting effect to them. In one, she
.stood atop a rotating platform, slowly
turning, her arms swaying back and
forth as the projected image of a radar
dish twirled in the opposite direction
behind her.
The performances Anderson gave on
her now signatory tape violin (which
features a modified violin with a tape
recorder head attached, over which a
bow with an attached piece of
prerecorded tape is drawn) were stun-
ning. Anderson was able to take small
snippets of recorded music, and
.dialogue and distort them into some
beautiful alien music.
Her band played with a tight but
unrestrained presence. Anderson's
melodies, a form of quirky high-tech
art-funk, were captured with an exotic,
richly syncopated magic. The
musicians were thoroughly
professional, particularly David Van
Tiegham, who played the drums and
percussion with a deftness and power
that recalls Jerry Marotta. i
Several of the songs worked excep-
tionally well. In particular, the "Blue
Lagoon" number, with its slow, sen-
suous mood, perfectly matched by a
Max Fleischer-styled cartoon of a

tropical beach projected behind the
band.
Other songs, unfortunately some ex-
ceptionally good ones such as
"Gravity's Angel" and "Excellent Bir-
ds" didn't fare as well. Musically, they
were as busy but not as well fleshed out
as the recorded versions. And the ac-
companying projected images were
disappointingly unimaginative,
.distracting from the songs instead of
adding to them.
In fact the songs never quite wholly
integrated into the rest of the perfor-
mance. They'd come in, build up the
audience's adrenelin, then dead-end into
one of Anderson's semi-theatrical bits.
There was a slightly jagged, even un-
comfortably disorienting abruptness to
them. that suggests Anderson might
want to tinker with the inclusion of a
live ensemble (a new addition to her
work as it is) more in future tours.
The complex coordination of visuals
and audio, the vast multitude of
sound effects, film and slides that ac-
companied the show went off without a
hitch, though the sound was far too over-
amplified for so small a hall as the
Michigan. Anderson's voice was often
completely drowned out by the band,
and at times it was loud to the point of
being physically painful.
Still, Anderson with her wit and
charmingly disarming stage presence,
hypnotized her audience like a master
magician. The applause was ec-
statically thunderous, and after several
minutes drew Anderson back on stage
for an encore. She picked up her un-
modified violin and, playing it like a

ukulele, gave a solo rendition of her
"Walk The Dog" which, as discordant
as it was to the ear, nonetheless had a
sweet soulfulness to its delivery.

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Anderson
... dances toa different drum

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