LAURIE ANDERSON at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, September 13. Tickets: $25.50. Attendance: 400. Rating: NNNN
walking past the coat check atthe Phoenix and down the corridor toward the concert area, you heard no pre-show music thumping from the house PA, no crowd chatter, nothing that would indicate that Laurie Anderson was minutes away from beginning her show. It was two days after the devastating terrorist attacks, and the people who'd turned out simply sat motionless in the darkened venue, silently facing the stage, waiting for something to happen. "I just had to get away from the news reports," a person muttered to a slouching friend staring at nothing in particular.
At precisely 9:15 pm, the cold electronic hum of the machines onstage was interrupted by the sound of polite applause as Anderson, dressed in black, peeled back the curtain and stepped forward to announce, "This performance is dedicated to the people who died on Tuesday."
With that she drew back her violin bow and poured her heart into a moving elegy. It appeared to be an indication that Anderson, an obsessive long-range planner, was going to scrap her intended set and instead play a more appropriate selection of music in light of the recent tragedy.
Just like after you've had a breakup, when each song you hear sounds like it was written about your heartache, everything Anderson sang seemed to refer to the New York tragedy.
That bit in Pieces And Parts about the "bones of a fallen angel" drew gasps from the audience before she even got to the big finish, "Get hit in your heart and you're pieces and parts, pieces and parts."
In the song Statue Of Liberty, you could see people turning to each other with astonished looks ("Did she just say what I think she said?") as Anderson intoned, "It's a good day to run away/Freedom is a scary thing." Then she continued with "Hello, goodbye to all the men and women who pass through her port into the open ocean/ Now you're just another spec on the horizon/Just another spec on the sea."
The fact that Anderson told me a month in advance that these were the songs she'd be playing in Toronto just made the eerie coincidences like the moment in O Superman where she emotionlessly bellowed, "Here come the planes, here come the American planes," that much more chilling.
About 90 minutes later, the house lights came up and people quietly began filing out, many shaking their heads just like me.