Stained glass in First Church, Dunedin, New Zealand
Elsewhere by Graham Reid

music - travel - arts

Wide angle reviews, interviews and opinion by writer Graham Reid

THE VIVID FESTIVAL, SYDNEY 2010: The laughin' Lou and lovely Laurie show

Boris: Attention Please
THE VIVID FESTIVAL, SYDNEY 2010: The laughin' Lou and lovely Laurie show

“This'll be my second old rocker today,” says the photographer. “I just did Peter Garrett this morning.”

We're in a small foyer of the Sydney Opera House waiting for the married couple of “old rocker” Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, who have co-curated the Vivid Live component of the annual Vivid festival. There's a sense of palpable anticipation – but when Lou'n'Laurie finally appear they are much smaller than expected and seem polar opposites.

 

She is fresh-faced, smiling and looks bouncy; he is thin, has gaunt features, and his mouth is set in what appears a permanently glum state. He looks bored already, she looks ready to kid around.

The Vivid Live artists they have invited – and the ancillary projects around them – is billed as “Bringing Downtown Manhattan to Sydney for two weeks” but the line-up includes Boris from Japan, Rickie Lee Jones (LA, right?), the Blind Boys of Alabama, David Hidalgo from Los Lobos . . .

It's an interesting line-up, but hardly seems “downtown Manhattan”. Reed's Metal Machine Trio – an ensemble delivering 90 minutes of unrehearsed, improvised noise – does however.

“Everyone here is someone we really, really like,” says Reed at the end of the 10 minute meet-the-media, “ and that's why they are here.”

It's a slightly awkward question time with someone asking about Coney Island Baby but Reed, in a tinder-dry, slow monotone fields it amusingly.

“Laurie and I are king and queen of the Mermaid Parade on Coney Island this year,” he says without expression. “Coney Island is one of my favourite places in the world and I think everyone should write at least one song about Coney Island.

“Coney Island Baby . . . they said I could do that if I promised I didn't do the sequel to Metal Machine Music.”

He also takes the chance to wearily deny, as always, that the feedback-drone Metal Machine Music double album of '74 was delivered to get out of a contract: “I really like guitars and feedback, that's all.”

He explains the MM Trio use the album as a kicking off point and are not trying to replicate the album: “It's a lot of fun – and it's very loud.”

Someone asks if he programmed the festival's loud stuff, she the quieter ones.

“Good guess,” laughs dimple-cheek Laurie.

IMG_3832In the festival she's doing a few talks, one in her alter-ego character Fenway Bergamot. I ask about the Fenway character and the voice-processing she uses.

“Fenway,” frowns Reed, looking at me like I am an idiot child. “It's 'Fenway'.”

Which is what I said. Maybe he's going deaf having done MM Trio 15 times?

Anderson lets it pass then delivers a cheery response: “This is an electronic filter which drops the voice. I invented this alter-ego because you just get sick of the sound of your own voice after a while. It's also a way to invent a character who can talk a little bit more like what is moving through your mind at that moment.

“It is inspired by William Burroughs and Herman Melville, it was also to get out of my own point of view, to try to see the world a different way through a seriously altered voice.”

Someone asks Lou about plans for his next album – and he almost concedes that the world is hardly waiting for it.

“I have plans for Metal Machine Trio and its various offshoots, but I haven't figured what would be a great to do right now that would make a difference for me, and for you. There are an awful lot of bands doing the [band] thing and you don't need me to do that. And I don't want to do that anyway. “So I'm trying to figure out what would be a really astonishing to do with it.”

The perfunctory press conference wraps up, photographers crowd around diminutive Lou'n'Laurie, it has been largely uninformative because of non-sequential questions.

That night Rickie Lee Jones delivers an apparently under-rehearsed and slightly distracted lifestory-cum-performance which alternates between endearing, annoying, moments you were glad to be there for (her version of Rebel Rebel, the eerie Ghostyhead) and sheer tedium. That old rocker Peter Garrett sitting in front of me liked it though.

IMG_3842Immediately after downstairs there is Boris. They offer a thrilling set which shifts between ear-bleeding volume (huge, rolling guitar psychedelic) and ethereal, mysterious and melodic soundscapes: noise from him (Takeshi on double-necked guitar), quiet from her (guitarist/singer Wata).

Much like Lou'n'Laurie have planned for the festival: loud and quiet.

Metal Machine Trio (earplugs supplied) two nights later is, as promised, loud improvised noise with Reed seated behind a battery of computer technology and looking like Stephen Hawking.

Around the 30 minute mark some leave but that is when it gets interesting: Reed has a guitar handed him and engages in weird sonics somewhere between the pedal delays of John Martyn and the prepared guitar style of Fred Frith.

On the way out I mention to Russell Baillie from the Herald – who also noted the Hawking similarity – that it was much like Rossini said of Wagner: moments of great beauty but boring quarter hours in between.

IMG_3862I liked it but don't want an album and wouldn't need to see it twice. Festival performances can be hit or miss. This was both.

One afternoon Anderson -- whose ever-changing light show illuminates the Opera House at night -- offers an enjoyably digressive talk which covers her period working as artist in residence for Nasa, designing a garden in Japan, and laughingly dismisses her opera based on Moby Dick (nobody needed an opera, it was a perfectly good book). Supported by a few Powerpoint slides, she is charming, funny, engaging, fields questions – she won't buy into the political art trap – and the audience loves it.

Except for the wizened guy next to me. Within minutes his head slumps forward and he falls sound asleep.

It's that old rocker Lou Reed.


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