Live at Town Hall NYC

Laurie Anderson

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Live at Town Hall NYC Review

by William Ruhlmann

By placing the location and dates, "New York City, September 19-20, 2001," on the stark cover of this concert album, Laurie Anderson evokes the context in which the shows from which it was drawn occurred: They took place less than two weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the city that was one of the principal targets. Anderson is not the sort of artist one would think of immediately as an ideal commentator on those cataclysmic events; hers is a cool, ironic persona, and irony was one of the immediate casualties of the attacks. Her introductory comments do not bode well, as she speaks, in her perpetually becalmed voice, of the "great opportunity" the attacks provide to "live in a completely new world," surely not a sentiment her listeners can have shared, as the sparse applause indicates. But as the concert goes on, her music comes across as elegiac in a way it did not before, and her abstract, discontinuous lyrics are full of observations newly transformed by tragedy. As she notes in her annotations, "Here come the planes/They're American planes, made in America," from 1981's "O Superman" has a new connotation here, and when she closes the show with "Love Among the Sailors" from 1994's Bright Red ("There is no pure land now, no safe place/If this is the work of an angry god, I want to look into his angry face"), the new meaning is unmistakable. As these selections suggest, the concert, unlike other performances of Anderson's, is a conventional look back at her career, picking highlights from old albums rather than an all-new program, which is what she usually presents. As such, the album is a live complement to 2000's Talk Normal: The Laurie Anderson Anthology, though its material is not as well chosen.

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