This year, TBA closed out its ten-day run with a show by Laurie Anderson, a returning TBA artist who's just about as big as it gets in the contemporary art scene. I'm not sure why PICA decided to close the fest with their big event, rather than opening with it as they've done in years past—it may have just been a logistical decision—but I liked it. A fancy event at the Schnitz that might make a snoozy opener instead offers a gentle comedown from the fest.
Anderson performed Dirtday!, a mild-mannered rumination on natural selection, tent cities, death, sleep, and her piano-playing dog.
Dirtday is predominantly a storytelling show—music provides punctuation and atmosphere, but is rarely the focus. On a bare stage dotted with candles, Anderson's voice settled into a dangerously soothing rhythm, occasionally distorted by a voice modifier or broken up with a riff on the electric violin. Each story was more or less a few jokes wrapped around an aphorism ("if we didn't have regrets, we wouldn't have all that much music"), plus the aforementioned YouTubes of her dead dog, which were beautifully out of context on that stage and very endearing at the same time. A fire alarm went off onstage at one point, and Anderson's handling of that distracting was as gracious as could be. She was gracious in general, in fact, peppering the show with plenty of humor, but I nonetheless I struggled to connect the pieces of Dirtday. She opened with a reference to the name of the show, in suggesting that we rename earth "dirt," because it's "funkier, like we are," but all I can think to say about the rest of the subject matter covered is that it is all relevant to being a human. The evening's undeniable highlight was when she returned to stage for an encore to play an electric violin solo, a beautifully precarious number in which every tremor of her bow transmitted both fragility and control. I wish Dirtday! had offered a few more of those moments.