Laurie Anderson presents a meditation on loss at the Harris Theater

Wed Jan 12, 2011 at 11:48 am

By Gerald Fisher

Laurie Anderson brought her show “Delusions,” to the Harris Theater Tuesday night.

Delusions, Laurie Anderson’s latest compendium of theater, film, storytelling and music came to the Harris Theater on Tuesday night. The performance piece offered this artist at her very best: her carefully modulated speaking voice set against a stadium-size electronic score in a collection of 20 absorbing, sometimes witty and ultimately moving segments loosely revolving around ideas of meaning, identity, language and loss.

The recent death of Anderson’s mother, touched on in a tender manner, lends this piece an elegiac tone.  Anderson is a Glen Ellyn native, so there surely was an even greater element of nostalgia in her return to Chicago.

The cool aesthetics of electronica and brilliant visual abstractions contrast with interludes of quiet and gently harmonic sentiment. The addition of a fully formed second character, Fenway Bergamot, an electronically modulated deep-toned alter-ego, adds another dimension to Anderson’s performance—no longer a monologue, but more of a duo. The character is a cynical, almost sulfurous, Ken Nordine sound-alike who engages the narrator not so much in dialogue as in a darker viewpoint. That contrast enriches the flashes of sentiment that shine through, and culminates in the narration of her mother’s end.

A Laurie Anderson performance piece can only loosely be considered a musical experience: the stories and ideas are the glue that holds the structure together; “Things fall apart without stories,” she says at one point.

Nevertheless music suffuses and defines the various segments as the performer wanders around the stage, sawing away at her trademark tape-bow violin, the sound field ranging from gentle rain and the crystalline sound of stardust to full orchestral pinnacles with psychedelic visuals reinforcing the experience. The Harris is an excellent venue for all this technical wizardry and everything was brought off flawlessly.

For all the play of ideas–political, social and aesthetic–the core of this piece is strikingly personal. At one point a live camera projects an unflinching close up of the performer’s face, no longer young but full of experience as she meditates on death and such questions as: “How can we begin again?” “What are the last things you say in your life?” and “Sleep is a vanishing act, but then again so is life.”

The music created for the deathbed scene of her mother sounds traditionally classical with a hint of Eleanor Rigby adding an almost pathetic note. Her mother’s loss raises thoughts about identity, purpose, love, or the lack of it, caring, birth and of course death: According to Laurie Anderson you die when your heart stops, when you are buried or burnt, or the last time someone says your name.

The capacity audience was welcoming and responsive to the unfolding narratives. The brief program, clocking in at not much over an hour, was perfectly judged and satisfying.

As an encore she treated the enthusiastic capacity audience to a violin solo which came across as a gently considered thank-you gift.

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One Response to “Laurie Anderson presents a meditation on loss at the Harris Theater”

  1. Posted Jan 12, 2011 at 6:09 pm by Bill

    As far as I could tell, she only played a somewhat modified, amplified, traditional violin, not the tape bow. My impression is that she’s moved away from almost all of the technological gimmickry that marked her 80s shows (although the gimmickry was very enjoyable!).

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