There is a moment in Laurie Anderson’s Homeland where, her voice piped through a masculinizing vocoder and backed with ambient synth reminiscent of a movie trailer voiceover, she declares, “One of the things I like about English is that you don’t have to be aware of the gender of everything in the room.” This was only one moment amongst many in her ninety-minute “concert poem” performed at Lincoln Center this July when Anderson managed to turn language inside out in response to, as she calls it, “America’s political urgency.”
Anderson first performed Homeland 14 months ago at the Highline Ballroom, and having brought it back home after a long European tour, she will take it to South America later on this summer. Still a work in progress, the piece consists of around a dozen songs that can function as movements of a symphony.
Playing violin, keyboard and electronic textures triggered from a laptop, Anderson is accompanied by an impressive group of jazz musicians, as well as two backup singers. One standout was drummer Joey Baron, who has collaborated with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, John Zorn and Philip Glass, and who at one point puts down his drumsticks and starts playing his kit like bongos. In a cameo appearance, her husband Lou Reed joins Anderson for a duet entitled “The Lost Art of Conversation,” in which his meandering vocal style provides a satisfying contrast to Anderson’s precision.
Anderson makes nearly all her points through juxtaposition, whether between the personal and political, classical and dance music, or femininity and masculinity. One example comes at the beginning of the performance, when Anderson describes the plot to Aristophanes’ The Birds, which was written as a satire of the Athenian invasion of Syracuse in 415 bc, before launching into lyrics about terrorism.
Most importantly, though, Homeland is listenable. Nearly half the songs would be fit for radio (well, college radio anyway), meaning it has roughly the same pop potential as Anderson’s seminal masterpiece Big Science, which was reissued by Nonesuch Records last year. If you missed Homeland this time around, be on the lookout for more U.S. performances this fall and the release of the album in 2009. laurieanderson.com.