Laurie Anderson's brilliant new song cycle tackles the topics of insecurity and anxiety.
Were the word "homeland" brought up on a television game show like Match Game or Family Feud, participants would likely link it immediately with the word "security." But "insecurity" is more like what Anderson has in mind for this 90-minute song cycle. In her program notes, she talks about floating anxiety related to losing things and in particular "losing my country without realizing it."
The leading candidate for single status, which she honed on the international tour leading to this appearance, is "Only an Expert," which boasts a killer hook built around repeating the phrase "Only an expert can deal with a problem." The thought, delivered over drummer Joey Baron's angst-riddled beat, is a cynical one -- no surprise to Anderson fans long familiar with her critical take on America's questionable domestic and foreign policies. Were this one to take off, it would be that irresistible chorus doing it and most likely not Rush-Limbaugh-defiant verse comments like "[T]hough a country can invade another country and flatten it/And ruin it and create havoc and civil war in that country/If the experts say it's not a problem and everyone agrees that they're experts/And good at seeing problems, then invading those countries/Is simply not a problem."
The second stinging Anderson ditty with hot air-waves potential is subtler, especially as delivered in a duet with Anderson's husband, the legendary Lou Reed. Called "Lost Art of Conversation," it digs at more personal dealings and includes the candid comments "I pretend I love you/You pretend you care/I pretend I'm happy/You pretend you're there."
Joining Anderson, who delivers her 16 numbers while either bowing her electric violin or working the synthesizer like a woman on a mission, are Baron, who never runs out of insistent drum riffs, Eyvind Kang sawing away introspectively on electric viola, Rob Berger shifting from accordion to synth to piano, and vocalists Ambrosia Parsley and Shara Worden oohing and aahing and (sometimes unintelligibly) doubling Anderson through lyrics.
From the looks of the Lincoln Center patrons, Anderson's fans are growing older along with her. And why not! Although her voice remains mellow -- even when she uses a vocorder to lower it -- she's still the same hopping-mad but wry-and-sly-about-it artist loved by those of us who have loved her for years.