Published Sep 26, 2019Laurie Anderson is a bit of an enigma. The artist's lone hit, "O Superman," was a perplexing crossover song that pulled equally from the worlds of pop and the avant-garde. It was a rare instance where ends of the musical spectrum converged into one, punctuated by a hypnotic musical loop and a political undertone that was remarkably prophetic for its time.
"O Superman" felt like a poignant meditation on the demise of humankind; the robots have taken over and airplanes are now mass produced in America. Anderson's POP Montreal performance offered a brief glimpse into this world, except much more grounded, condensed and expansive.
Equipped with a violin and something resembling a sequencer synthesizer, Anderson meandered her way through the most intimate machinations of her mind. It's as if she was a beacon of light, guiding the audience through a vast dimension of sound. Any and all notions of musical convention were thrown out the window. It cemented her as one of music's greatest living visionaries.
The performance was at the intersection of interpretive and straightforward, but mostly leaned toward Anderson's experimental impulses. She enlisted the help of saxophonist Colin Stetson and cellist Rebecca Foon, both of whom inserted a vigorous sonic palette that provided depth to Anderson's ambient tones. The set was completely improvised, which you wouldn't expect from Anderson's pristine production quality and team of experienced musicians. Interpretive performances can be a crux for some; to the untrained ear, it might've seemed like Anderson was discursively moving from idea to idea without thought or reason. Nonetheless, it felt surprisingly rehearsed.
Foon and Stetson helped inject the performance with an all-encompassing range of sounds, alternating between hushed ambience and avant-garde freak-outs. The performance felt like a veritable summation of everything music is and can be. Anderson captured a sonic sweet spot that verged between accessible and inaccessible, violent and effervescent.
And at the helm of the of it all was Anderson herself, exploding with rapturous tones that aimed for maximum accessibility while maintaining an experimental tone that's integral to her sound. It was remarkably calculated.
It was a sold-out show, which implies that the audience probably knew that they were getting into. Although the performance incorporated a diverse array of genres and styles, newcomers probably felt a bit alienated. If the audience left the show expecting to "get it," they're missing the mark. Anderson's music constitutes something larger than life. When translated live, it's nothing short of a religious experience.