Laurie Anderson Live

”You know what I really like about cyberspace?” asked Laurie Anderson from the stage of Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre on Feb. 6. ”The rumors. Such as the recent so-called fact that the Vatican had been bought out by Microsoft…One world, one operating system!” The software-conscious crowd applauded warmly as Anderson kicked off her first tour in five years.

In the world of performance art, the pint-size Anderson, 47, stands as tall as local hero Bill Gates. And she’s got nearly as rich a storehouse of multimedia product to offer. Anderson’s dazzling Nerve Bible tour incorporates pieces from her 1994 album, Bright Red, as well as this year’s The Ugly One With the Jewels; her book, Stories From the Nerve Bible; and her upcoming debut CD-ROM, Puppet Motel.

But for all its otherworldliness, Anderson’s live show isn’t virtual. It’s the real thing, as elaborately choreographed as anything staged by Madonna. It’s a one-woman opera scored with 11 computer languages and one raspy human. Even with 35-plus tons of equipment on stage, three 12-foot-wide screens madly free-associating dreamy images, an electronic bodysuit that makes percussive noises when she taps it, prerecorded vocals by Anderson’s lover, Lou Reed, and her trademark neon violin, The Nerve Bible is, at its deeply moving heart, a storytelling experience. A lot of it could be told around a camp fire, or at a poetry slam, and all of it is a spooky, witty meditation on death.

The show springs from an experience Anderson had while being carried down the Himalayas by a Sherpa in 1993, as she suffered a near-fatal fever. The soundtrack beautifully evokes the cosmic bells she hallucinated, and the video screens illustrate, with a pair of windup toy teeth that chatter to a stop, her conviction that she would have died if her fellow climber had ceased talking to her on the way down. Anderson calls the voice ”the only thing binding me to this turning world this tightrope made of sound.” She also supplies an eerie blue-green laser — a tightrope of light. The Nerve Bible is an aesthetic daredevil act, a jaunty slide on a high-wire strung over an abyss. Laurie Anderson is out there, but she hasn’t fallen yet. A