Anderson ex machina

Rock star appears in Birmingham beneath Mothership-lookalike. Boy, can she summon up hi-tech heaven
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Though one could, if pressed, quibble (what, for instance, was it all about?), the experience of The Nerve Bible was sufficiently dazzling to nip any carping critical faculties in the bud. Despite being essentially a programmed entertainment - needing, one supposed, only a white-coated technician to press Play and then retire to occasionally adjust the tracking while Anderson came in on cue to supply the live bits - this was 21st- century rock'n'roll writ large. Soon, all big concerts will be like this, only not so good.

After the PA's sudden oomph when the show was switched on, three big screens rolled into place to receive digitally tweaked images of a burning book, shimmering below the Mothership-lookalike of the hall's acoustic baffles. Anderson, dressed - you guessed it - all in black, entered to choreograph the music through sensitive touches of a keyboard and brutal strokes of her screaming violin, speaking in that beautifully rounded voice about time, her father, history and travel. Her opening discourse supplied us with abundant footnotes: Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Don DeLillo and John Cage, though none of them made much sense. She's been to Tibet and nearly died, she told us, she's been to the North Pole and also lived in a Mayan yurt; she's seen the lights of the Gulf War. If being Laurie Anderson is a bit like starring in a top-dollar travelogue, you couldn't begrudge your acceptance for long before the video projections took your breath away.

Less William Burroughs than folksy Thornton Wilder, Anderson clearly has a mission to communicate, but what she actually says often seems curiously mundane. "Sometimes when you hear a scream," she says, pausing for the maximum effect, "it goes right in one ear and out the other." And much of it did, so that you were left cursing her portentous delivery while marvelling at the exquisitely timed imagery with which such banal pensees were accompanied. Pascal, one feels, she ain't; but boy can she summon up hi-tech heaven. The sound was superb, and even the voice of Lou Reed (present digitally, if not in person) came across loud and clear. Anderson also played guitar, with a Chris Isaak tremolo effect miraculously transforming her apprentice axe-attempts into something wondrous (thanks, man in white coat).

The high-point occurred when she wasn't even on stage, a collage of Internet codes scrolling across the screens like the alphabet of the gods. She returned to receive the first applause of the evening (we were all too scared of upsetting the computer to clap between numbers) and bowed graciously as the credits rolled behind her; "written and directed by Laurie Anderson". The tracking was pretty good, too. Now, if only we could give this technology to four disaffected drug abusers with guitars...