I have spent a lot of time defending different artists in my day. Usually this is because, well, my tastes are difficult to define, to say the least. (Case in point: two of my early reviews, which happened one right after the other were this and this) But, the one single artist that I come to the defense of more than any other is Yoko Ono. Everyone has an opinion about her, and generally speaking, this opinion is pretty negative. The primary cause of this is most likely either a.) they blame her for the break up of The Beatles (I still think that this was Linda’s fault) or b.) they blame her for the widespread acceptance of the avant garde. I personally don’t hold her responsible for either of these things. I also think people either don’t take her seriously enough, or take her far too seriously.
I must give a respectful shout-out to the good people of Noise Pop for making this show happen. They took a chance at booking such a divisive figure for their opening night show, and it paid off pretty nicely.
San Francisco’s own Deerhoof opened the show, an act with a very similar reputation as that of Ms Ono. They are often considered part of the “noise” movement, but the set they played tonight was hardly that. Instead, they were going for the poppy, primarily focusing on tracks off of their more recent records Friend Opportunity and Offend Maggie, two albums of aggressive dance punk, with vocals hinting at a slight Bjork influence. The audience, which was nearly full for this opening set, a rarity for shows where every seat in the house is reserved, was rapt with attention. Multiple people were just sitting with wide grins, while other were rocking out in their seats. The mid-set cover of The Ramones’ classic “Pinhead” was greeted with the same level of excitement as the majority of the set, possibly due to a lack of folks recognizing the song. The only moment in the set that brought people out of their seat though, was an unexpected cover of the Canned Heat classic “Going Up the Country.”
After a short set change, they played a video chronicling the history of Yoko Ono, from her birth and her early days as a performance artist, and taking her through her relationship with John Lennon, and bring you up to modern time. The video was beautiful, and it was great to see some legendary performance art pieces, such as Cut Piece, in a room full of adoring fans.
The band walked in and did a brief rendition of the meditative piece, “It Happened,” from 1974’s A Story, before diving in to “Waiting For The ‘D’ Train,” the hard-driving opener to Ono’s brilliant recent release, Between My Head and Your Sky. This, of course, got the crowd whipped in to a frenzy. After this heavier opener, moved in to a set of “pop” songs that head a good groove, and almost lent itself towards a disco sound.
The current incarnation of Plastic Ono Band is a very tight and versatile machine. Although he remained quiet throughout most of the earlier part of the show, Sean Lennon (son of John Lennon & Yoko Ono) took the role of de facto band leader. He alternated between bass and guitar throughout most of the set, only to jump on to the piano a handful of times. The rest of the band included Japanese electronic music composer Cornelius on guitar and Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda on keyboards, as well as Hirotaka “Shimmy” Shimizu taking some guitar duties and Yuko “migu” Araki on drums. This troupe of musicians easily slid from noisy rave ups to electronic dance music to mediative ragas to classic blues rock jams without missing a beat.
After an enthusiastic reading of the classic Plastic Ono Band song “Walking On Thin Ice,” the band left the stage, and Harper Simon (son of Paul Simon) joined Lennon and Ono for an acoustic reading of the song “Will I,” which gave the song a certain Beatles-esque quality that the song lacked on the original album version, found on 1995’s Rising, her first record with her son. Lennon’s voice is beautiful, and though he sounds very little like his father, he seems to have his gift for melody. About halfway through the song, they brought out Lennon’s childhood friend, a large, dread-locked man named Jaron, to play recorder. He stayed on stage, playing the sitar, as well as the Laotian pan flute, and according to Lennon was capable of playing at least “1800 more instruments.”
Lennon took over on lead vocals for the song “Sun Is Down,” while Ono danced about the stage and occasionally laid on her back to kick her feet in the air. For recently turning 77, she was very energetic, making sure to run around the stage and dance very frequently. Next up was the rarely played “Death Of Samantha,” a very classic Plastic Ono Band song with a wicked guitar riff originally played by John Lennon that Sean first emulated, before turning it into his own piece of work.
The band proceeded to jam out on the classic “Mindtrain” before closing the main set with Lennon on piano and Ono on vocals to do the Japanese song “Higa Noboru,” asking the crowd to “sing along, because you all should know the words.”
The encore consisted of a performance of the song “Mulberry,” which was performed while Ono’s classic film Fly was shown behind the band. They then brought out Deerhoof to sit in with the band for a performance of “Don’t Worry Kyoko,” one of the most famous Plastic Ono songs.
At this point, it was well after the venues advertised ending time on 10:45, and the band walked off stage, but the audience kept demanding more. So, despite the show running slightly longer than expected, they still pulled out the big show stopper, a group sing along of “Give Peace A Chance,” the very first song ever recorded by the Plastic Ono Band. Petra Haden and Harper Simon sang one verse, while Deerhoof sang another, then Ono and Lennon sang the final verse. It was a beautiful and cathartic ending to an amazing night of music. For the few of you who weren’t in attendance, if she comes around again, make it a point to attend the show.
Waiting For The ‘D’ Train
Between My Head & The Sky
Walking On Thin Ice
Sun Is Down
Death Of Samantha
Don’t Worry Kyoko
Give Peach A Chance
Ghost of a Saber Toothed Tiger, which comprises Sean Lennon, as well as many of the musicians that appeared on stage at the Fox will be playing tonight at The Independent.