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I waited years to watch this...and then...
on 18 July 2010
I was a teenage Laurie Anderson fan back in the 80s. I forget how it started out, but it helped that I was also a teenage Adrian Belew fan, and Belew was at the time the hot guitarist for hire if you were a mainstream American art-rocker, and he plays on the album as well as being in the film. I bought the Home of the Brave album and was all excited about the fact that it was the soundtrack to a movie - perhaps the movie would come to Dublin, and I too could see the mischievous elfin charm of Ms Anderson bopping about the stage making her elliptical remarks while her band of NY art musicians (David van Tieghem on drums, Richard Landry of the Philip Glass Ensemble on sax, Talking Heads' former backing singer Dolette McDonald, among others, not to mention the quirky Mr Belew) rock up a storm behind her. It would be the art-rock concert movie to end all a.-r. c. m.'s! Surely it would blow 'Stop Making Sense' off the stage!
Well, 'Home of the Brave' the movie never came to Ireland (or if it did, I missed it) and I never got my hands on a VHS copy of it. Years later, in the digital era, it never turned up on DVD either. The only ways to watch it now are to score a secondhand tape of it or to root around for somebody on the internet who might be willing to come to an arrangement with you. Finally, after more than 20 years, I managed to get a copy of it and I settled in to watch it.
I am still a great admirer of Laurie Anderson, although slightly less so since she got hitched to that leathery old fake Lou Reed, and it pains to me to admit that 'Home of the Brave' isn't the masterpiece I wanted it to be. Clearly taking a cue from Jonathan Demme's handling of the camera in Stop Making Sense, Ms. Anderson avoids shots of cheering audience members (although she ventures into the audience herself at one point) and keeps the focus on the carefully staged action and back-projection. The truth is, the sound is not great (although we're talking about a VHS recording now, so a DVD would probably carry more detail and volume) and the songs generally sounded better (fuller, glossier, more punchy) on the album. There are some lovely moments, such as her brief tango with William Burroughs during 'Late Show', and the performances of herself and the band are charming and amusing: the opening number, performed by everyone including Anderson herself in what appear to be modified gimp masks, is truly weird. The playing is great, even though it's clear that some of it is not live: Belew is playing a floppy rubber guitar at one point, which makes you suspicious of how much of the rest of his playing was pre-recorded. There's a funny bit where Anderson telephones her keyboardist Joy Askew for a chat halfway through, supposedly oblivious to the fact that Askew has to get off the phone so that she can change out of her tutu for the next number. There's also a gorgeous improvised duet between Belew and van Tieghem on guitar and percussion, Belew laying his guitar flat on the floor in the manner of yer typical free improviser and dropping things on it.
But in the end, Home of the Brave lacks a sense of drama. It's not quite as satisfying a show as Stop Making Sense, but neither is it spontaneous enough to be a truly wiggy and exciting concert. Perhaps Anderson was obliged to put too many songs from her then-current album into the piece (Mister Heartbreak is perhaps the closest she's ever come to making a conventional record) but, whatever happened, Home of the Brave seems to last slightly too long. The music lacks the muscle of a full band and the visuals were probably more impressive in the Park Theatre, New Jersey. Interesting, but not great.