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Monday, March 09, 2020

Laurie Anderson – Here Comes The Ocean Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, Friday, March 6 2020 - Part of the NZFestival

Laurie Anderson - Taken in Odlins Plaza (7 March)
Photo: Tim Gruar
In an interview the following day, guest curator and performer Laurie Anderson reflected on her lace in the Festival.  "We are not here to do shows - to present - we are here to collaborate, to be part of the festival"

I suppose this was the premise behind her 'show ‘on Friday night - a symphony (of sorts) featuring ocean-inspired songs by Lou Reed (her late husband), and a variety of poems, observations and spoken word pieces of her own, supported by improvisations from her and the touring band.

This is a really good example of a Festival event, where the audience are part of the 'experiment,.  At one pint we were invited to howl along with the dogs and sing, clap and engage. 

It all started with Reed's former guitar tech Stewart Hurwood doing his 'drone' thing with Lou's guitars arranged around a circle of amps like some kind of druid's seance.  Over that Horomona Horo and another uncredited Kaumatua welcomed us all from the balcony calling across the din.

Horonoa came in to sit and play a variety of Taonga pūoro, which all fitted perfectly in with the other music, giving everything a 'Pacific' flavour - as it should, being the largest ocean ! A double bassist, Greg Cohen, cellist Rubin Kodheli and violinist/guitarist Eyvind Kang provided much of the beautiful orchestral washes and supported Anderson's own trademark electric violin.  Multi-instrumentalist and percussionist Shahzad Ismaily provided beats and plenty of colour and variety on songs, when needed.

We had a few locals, too including Megan Collins and Budi Putra from Gamelan Wellington, and some 'special guests' - a children's orchestra of 6 -9 year olds who came out to play the 2nd Violin Part from Debussy's La Mer, conducted by Kodheli.  Anderson argues that it's the songs and smaller bit within the big pieces that are the special moments. The youngest was only 6 but was dressed in an amazing red dress that sparkled so brightly!
Could you say Anderson was steering her ship through this crazy voyage?  Perhaps.  It all seems very off the cuff, and she seemed to just randomly press buttons on her keyboard to conjure up vocals from Reed, a bit of James Brown (Get On The Good Foot) and a dark and alien version of her own voice – via some snazzy filters and software,  Woman-machine-morphed together. 

I recognised a few bits and pieces in her soup mix, like Lou's Reed’s Cremation (Ashes To Ashes) from '92's Magic and Loss and Here Comes The Ocean (1972) plus one or two few chamber music pieces.  It all melded into the drone sounds, images of dogs and space, random lyrics from Joni Mitchell (River) and more Lou - Dirty Blvd in particular.

While it was great to hear Anderson's delightful, measured vocal delivery (nothing seems to phase her) the work Horo put in also made the show even more special.  I don't think you can really critique a performance like this, except to ask: "Was I bored?  Was I confused?  Was I entertained?  Was I challenged?"

I was definitely entertained when Anderson demonstrated her Tai Chi moves.  I was definitely challenged when she dwelled on those deep remembrances of loss - a point she makes a lot.  You do not need to experience sadness to understand it. 

So, how can you sum up a show like tonight’s?  I wouldn’t.  Just let it happen.  Being there is what counts.  Art can be just of itself, you don't always need to over analyse it.

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