Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Homeland (of the Brave)

April 10, 2008

Photo : C. Laurie Anderson

Thursday saw Laurie Anderson’s return to Los Angeles and to Royce Hall with her latest work Homeland on her current tour of the work throughout Europe and the U.S., prior to a run at this summer’s Lincoln Center Festival. Anderson has achieved a legendary status at this point in her career, so it is no surprise that the new piece draws on familiar elements from her previous works. At the heart of it all, Anderson has always first been a chronicler of the American experience. She may well be the Mark Twain of her generation in a way. So to find her entering her 60s profoundly unhappy with what she sees around her may come as no surprise. While it's hard not to sympathize with her concern, the current show is not one of her best.

Much of this anger and frustration seeps through the pores of Homeland as she talks about a veritable laundry list of flash points from the Iraq War, to global warming, to gun control, to the current elections. Anderson is no stranger to topical material in her work, but I found this perhaps some of her most politically direct material ever. It’s a fair departure from some of the more esoteric and aesthetic pieces of recent years and, like all such topical material, rises and falls based on its relevance and relationship to other such texts around it. Some of her rejoinders about the complacency of silence work, while her warnings about the “bad guys” in the world sometimes seem too obvious.

Genre-wise, Anderson is back in music mode playing very formally structured songs from her forthcoming Nonesuch release of the same name. Songs flow together from one to another, and, at times, Anderson seemed more like Neil Young or Patti Smith on stage amongst the votive candles and her three piece band. I’ve always found that the real power of Anderson’s songs isn’t necessarily right at the surface and require repeated exposure to do their work, so this first experience with the new material seemed uneven. There are one or two witty upbeat numbers about how “only experts can deal with the problem” but more of the songs were darker and brooding in theme.

While I can’t say I disagree with Anderson’s politics or concerns about the world, I must admit that this isn’t the work I love her for. This is not the subtle, aesthetic Anderson looking at humankind’s relationship to nature and technology, but Anderson the American looking around at what she sees with a note of despair and more than a little rage.


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