Yoko Ono: Live Peace in Brooklyn 2010

By John Marshall

The reviewer with "Apple" by Yoko Ono, 1966

The reviewer with "Apple" by Yoko Ono, 1966

We Are Plastic Ono Band

BAM Howard Gilman Opera House

February 16, 2010

Yoko Ono was accused of splitting up the Beatles, but at the Brooklyn Academy of Music she brought together an incredible array of disparate musicians, playing in styles ranging from 1920’s jazz to 1960’s blues to 2010 techno to undefinable sounds that show she is still, at the age of 77, ahead of her time.

By all rights this should have been on television (and judging from the cameras and the trucks parked outside, it may well be, somewhere); it was packaged not as a complete overview of Yoko’s career, but as something of a greatest hits combined with tributes.

Before the show, in the lobby were some of Yoko’s most famous art installations, including the film “Bottoms,” the “Sky,” “Dream,” War Is Over!” and “Imagine Peace” banners, and my favorite, “Apple,” which simply is an apple on a stand (it was one of the pieces that attracted John to Yoko at London’s Indica Gallery in 1966).

Inside the theater, pre-show animation (by Jordan Galland) showed a drawing (by Sean) with birds flying out of her mouth, while bird sounds were played.

A short opening film by Jenny Golden and Sean again (he did everything; even designing the program) showed Yoko highlights, including “Cut Piece,” where audience members cut off pieces of her clothing, her peace activities with John and even the photo she took of his bloody glasses that caused an uproar when she used it for an album cover in 1981.

Her work has always been direct, in-your-face and positive; some of it is totally out there and some is as mainstream as you can get (well, as mainstream as SHE can get).  At this show, she hit the extremes as well as the middle, but pulled no punches.  Although the evening was focused on her, it was really a celebration of collaboration, often among family members.  Accordingly, the person who held the show together was (who else?) Sean Lennon.

As musical director, he assembled the musicians, suggested songs, played a number of instruments and introduced the acts.  It was inspiring to see how his choices showcased his mom’s work; it was moving to hear her say that he “made her feel better.”

Act One consisted of Yoko fronting a Plastic Ono Band consisting of Sean, Yuka Honda, Keigo Oyamada, Shimmy Hirotaka Shimizu, Yuko Araki, Michael Leonhart and Erik Friedlander.  They did songs from her latest album, 2009’s “Between My Head and the Sky,” as well as classics such as “Walking On Thin Ice” (the last record John played on), “Mind Train” and “It Happened.”

Although tiny, Yoko is such a commanding presence and her voice so powerful, even though she was more than twice the age of the musicians accompanying her, they were trying to keep up with HER.  And she was wilder than anyone else in the show.

The Scissor Sisters kicked off the second half with a thrilling “The Sun is Down,” an infectious synth number from “Between My Head and the Sky.”  Next came “What a Bastard the World Is,” a sweet sounding 1973 ballad with fuck-you lyrics aimed at a “pig” who did her wrong (we can only guess who she meant) belted out by Justin Bond, who perfectly captured the song’s hurt, anger and sorrow.

George Ween and Sean did a touching acoustic version of “Oh Yoko,” followed by the very electric “Mulberry,” which featured Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore accompanying Yoko’s trademark wailing with feedback-drenched cacophony.  In back of them on the big screen flies cavorted over a naked woman’s body in Yoko and John’s 1970 film “Fly.”  The performance was passionate, ominous and oddly beautiful. Or beautifully odd.

This was followed by a dip into the sounds of almost a hundred years ago, as the Plastic Ono Band became a Prohibition-era dance orchestra.  Bette Midler slinked onstage, said, “Hi, boys” to the band, and purred her way through “Yes, I’m Your Angel” from “Double Fantasy.”  It was funny, sexy and when it was done, Sean told us that Bette had arranged the song herself.

The curtain came down and Sean announced that a father and son who hadn’t played as a guitar duo before would perform.  Then Paul Simon and Harper Simon sang achingly poignant renditions of Yoko’s “Silverhorse” and John’s “Hold On,” blending the tunes and their voices perfectly.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, the curtain went up and without intro, the stage shook with the opening bars of the Beatles/Plastic Ono Band/Dirty Mac classic “Yer Blues.”  Together for the first time in 37 years were original Plastic Ono Band members Yoko, Eric Clapton and Klaus Voorman, with Sean doing his dad’s vocals and guitar part.  Never have the lines “Yes, I’m lonely / Wanna die” sounded so joyous and full of life.

Clapton was amazing – not because he played so well, which I expected – but because he looked less like a rock star and more like an old hippie who was happy just to jam.  He didn’t even play lead for most of the song – he played rhythm behind Sean.  Voorman (who designed the Beatles’ “Revolver” cover, played at The Concert for Bangla Desh, and produced Trio’s “Da Da Da,” among other accomplishments) held down the bottom with what was probably his first public bass playing in years. And Yoko was in her own universe, wailing away.  They were all so relaxed, intense and not giving a shit, all at the same time.  It was real raw, fucked up rock and roll.  John Lennon definitely would have been pleased.

Then they blasted their way through Yoko’s “Death of Samantha” and “Don’t Worry Kyoko” (a great “avant blues” from “Live Peace in Toronto 1969″).  I could have listened to them all night, but then everyone came back onstage for the finale, a roof-shaking “Give Peace a Chance” with new lyrics by Yoko referencing current events.

In the film at the beginning, the 1969 Yoko tells an interviewer, “There is no time for negative thoughts.  We’re gonna make it, you know.  We’re gonna make it.”  41 years later at BAM, her relentless positivity and limit-stretching creativity exceeded even the expectations of her fans, who kept shouting out how much they loved her, finally erupting in a spontaneous rendition of that old avant garde stand-by, “Happy Birthday.”

“I’ve come to expect unexpected things,” said Yoko, giggling.  “And that’s one of them.”

Yoko’s Imagine Peace website

Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band: Between My Head and the Sky

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Posted on 17 Feb 2010 at 9:43am
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