Laurie Anderson & Sexmob Take Berlin

Richard Gehr on June 22, 2023
Laurie Anderson & Sexmob Take Berlin

For the opening number of her Eurotour-closing June 19 show at Berlin’s Theater des Westens, Laurie Anderson – backed by jazz-rocking wild cards Sexmob – zapped the audience back her beginnings as arguably America’s most popular avant-garde performer. “We are all going down, together,” declared Anderson in the vocally modulated pilot’s voice she assumes on “From the Air,” the opening track of her 1982 debut album, Big Science. Big scary questions regarding technology, tragedy, and power are her stock in trade, to which she added here a tincture of hope in the form of intermittent “advice.” For example: eat good food, get enough sleep, and try not to hate yourself so much.

Sexmob helped Anderson rejuvenate other Big Science  compositions including  “O Superman,” “Let X=X / It Tango,” “Born, Never Asked,” and (bonus track) “Walk the Dog.” Sexmob’s inventive new arrangements never overpowered the show’s forever-impish 76-year-old frontwoman, though, even as its lineup – Steven Bernstein (slide trumpet), Kenny Wollesen (drums), Tony Scherr (bass), Briggan Krauss (saxophone, guitar), and guest Doug Wieselman (clarinet, guitar) – sometimes evoked the urbane late-20th-century Downtown caterwaul of John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards (in which four mobsters served at various times). Indeed, their sound often skewed markedly toward the skronk guitar riffing of Lizards co-founder Arto Lindsay.

The Berlin audience restlessly jumped the gun in its eagerness to take up Anderson’s invitation to scream in sympathy with Yoko Ono’s bloodcurdling response to you-know-who’s election and all subsequent crises. The show’s downbeat, end-times mood was reflected in wintery projections of rain, snow, and ice projected behind the musicians. Anderson evoked elders and ancestors such as Philip Glass, John Cage, and James Brown (the latter in an abbreviated “Get on the Good Foot”), but none more immediately than her late husband. Rather than wallow perhaps too obviously in the decadence of Lou Reed’s 1973 masterpiece Berlin, Anderson and Sexmob instead reveled gloriously in “Junior Dad,” the trancelike 20-minute closing track of Reed’s Metallica-enhanced swan song, Lulu (2011).

With Anderson often reading her lines from papers she carried around, the show felt a bit like a workshop for a future American run. If so, may we all somehow manage to stay on the good foot till then.