The latest from Laurie, “Bright Red” (Warner Bros.), released late last fall , was an often brooding collaboration with ambient electronics maestro Brian Eno.”The Ugly One With the Jewels and Other Stories,” however, due from Warners in March, consists of live, minimally scored London readings from her book “Stories from the Nerve Bible,” many of which were fleshed out and combined with “Bright Red” numbers to form this 110-minute multimedia show.
Much of the “new” material is actually a look back at some touching, funny or bizarre episodes in Anderson’s life — a hitchhiking journey to the magnetic North Pole, pyrotechnic adventures in Israel, and eavesdropping on traveling salesmen. One particularly moving passage was a memoir from the eternally cheerful John Cage, who just before his death said something lovely about progress: “We’re getting faster and better and smarter. We just can’t see it; it happens so slowly.”
The sliding triple screens behind Anderson projected images ranging from CNN’s famous videos of the fireshow over Baghdad to some stunningly detailed computer graphics. Underpinning everything was a mostly ominous electronic score , with a mesmerizing four-note motif punctuated by Anderson’s electric violin and synthesizer as well as some rudimentary electric guitar.
In all, “The Nerve Bible” was a more elaborate, more varied and more somber presentation than Anderson’s last tour. Yet for all this cybernetic virtuosity, it was Anderson’s dry wit, her arch delivery (her voice is just a bit huskier now) and her off-kilter perceptions of life that made this show breathe. In fact , we could have used more talk and more stories in Part II, which at one point sagged a little under the wordless high-tech assault.
Toward the end of Part I, Anderson switched everything off, sat on a platform and simply talked about being saved by a person’s voice in Tibet. That’s all she really needs; the rest is all quite fascinating but would have seemed empty and cold without her uniquely slanted human dimension.