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Did you hear the one about the astronauts? Anderson at the Egg.

photo:Martin Benjamin

Star Child
By Shawn Stone

Laurie Anderson

The Egg, Oct. 27

Laurie Anderson has been doing performance art for a long time. She’s still doing it quite well, and a smallish crowd turned out at the Egg last Thursday to see her latest work. In The End of the Moon, she mixed monologues, some stream-of-consciousness bits that might as well be called poetry, a lot of music and a few jokes together with her bemused, Zen-esque sensibility. The result didn’t so much cohere as efficiently hang together, but it was entertaining nonetheless.

Anderson, dressed all in black with silver sparkly highlights on her shirt, looked, appropriately, like the show biz equivalent of a stereotypical, black-clad downtown- Manhattan artist. Smoked swirled around the stage area of the Hart Theater, while the stage itself was adorned with lights that looked like little votive candles. The last was a nice touch—it served to limit Anderson’s movements, and at the same time emphasize the grace with which she had to move around.

Anderson began the show sitting in an old-style living room chair placed at stage left, but, after some opening thoughts on beauty and life as a kind of bad art, she stepped carefully to the center of the stage, where her computer and electric violin were placed.

The peg on which the evening hung was this: In 2003, the powers that be at NASA decided they wanted Anderson to be their first artist in residence. This, she explained, was a kind of “dream job” for her: “I took it really seriously.” She toured the various NASA facilities over the last two years, getting a look at various space and space- related programs that seemed, to her, more like “gigantic art projects.”

She described, with no small amount of wonder, nanotechnology projects, images from space and—with an audible note of dread—other projects that would probably be exploited for their military capabilities.

This was a nice segue to the subject of the war, one of the many subtexts to her mournful music and deadpan musings. In a story about her dog, Lolabelle, being targeted by vultures on a walk through the California woods, she evoked 9/11.

To her dismay, she was told by NASA that she was “not just the first, but the last artist in residence.” Anderson didn’t speculate as to the reason the program was ended.

The End of the Moon didn’t exactly have momentum, but it was never dull. It was more in the nature of a highbrow vaudeville show, with Anderson as all the acts—the ultimate juggler, if you will.

Awesome Sound

Ween

Northern Lights, Oct. 25

The Brothers Ween have visited our area infrequently during their illustrious 16-year career, but their few Capital Region appearances have been ones to remember. Their earliest area shows were the mushroom-clouded affairs typical of those days; their short set at the 1997 H.O.R.D.E. festival was the best (and weirdest) 25 minutes of that music-packed day; their 2001 show at Northern Lights was a marathon performance, full of their best-loved songs.

Last Tuesday’s performance at Northern Lights—billed as “An Evening with Ween”—was a culmination of everything that made those earlier performances great, indicating that they won’t be hanging it up anytime soon. Gene Ween (Aaron Freeman), in particular, was on his A-game, looking fresh in the wake of last year’s fixer-upper. (The band cancelled a tour last year, citing the need for one of their members to dry out a bit; while it was never actually confirmed to be Freeman, the improvement in his performance spoke volumes.) And the performance—32 songs over two-and-a-half hours—was raucous and exciting, the song selection something of a grab bag (the band’s most recent disc was this summer’s rarities compilation Shinola). The sold-out-in-advance crowd couldn’t have been more pleased.

Ween standards, if you will, were filed among less-common choices, giving the show a loose, spontaneous vibe. A rave-up “Push Th’ Little Daisies” was tucked between Pure Guava deep cuts “Springtheme” and “Little Birdy,” the latter bearing little resemblance to its slo-mo album version. “Dr. Rock” led off a mid-set trio of thrashers that included “Papa Zit” and “Sketches of Winkle” (both from God Ween Satan, both highly ridiculous). The encore—once given to be either “Poopship Destroyer” or “Buenos Tardes Amigos”—skirted predictability by including a wheezy Mollusk waltz and the giddy Shinola track “Someday,” which featured a synth solo that would make Keith Emerson moist.

The set mostly alternated between relatively straight-forward rockers and nitrous-riddled psychedelic-prog jams. “Marble Tulip Juicy Tree” (with bizarrely over-loud sound-effects) and “Happy Colored Marbles” set the tone early; nearly half of the tracks from 1997’s nautical farce The Mollusk were touched on through the evening. (As a sad consequence, the just-short-of-brilliant 12 Golden Country Greats was not represented.)

Several new songs provided the biggest surprises. Ween are not generally known for their poignancy, so the as-yet-unrecorded “Light Me Up” was startling. The song, for which Freeman donned a Hunter S. Thompson-esque hat and sunglasses, featured a self-analytical lyric about the perils of rocking hard and drinking harder. This was not role-playing, but rather a man turning himself inside-out (sort of) for his audience (for once). “Leave Deaner Alone”—a short, sharp, funny hard-rocker about guitarist Dean Ween (Mickey Melchiondo) being annoyed by demo-tape-bearing fans—was another highlight.

Then there were the Chocolate and Cheese numbers: “Voodoo Lady” interpolated a verse of Prince’s “Kiss,” with Gener doing a passable impression of the man with the assless pants, and “Roses Are Free” turned into a big hippy dance party. (Had Phish never covered this tune, would Ween’s audience still be acidheads and peripheral Zappa fans?) “The HIV Song”—possibly the most offensive song in the Ween canon, despite having the fewest actual lyrics—was typically festive; “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down),” their second-most-offensive, followed. Righteous.

—John Brodeur


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