Thursday, February 18, 2010

We Are Plastic Ono Band at BAM

by Dick Mac

The We Are Plastic Ono Band concert took place at Brooklyn Academy of Music ("BAM") last Tuesday, February 16, 2010.

Re-conceived by Sean Lennon, the son of Yoko Ono and John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band's only original member is Yoko. Sean gathered the additional members, and his mother is the lead singer.

Plastic Ono Band performed last Summer in London, and this led to creation of a new album "Between My Head And The Sky" by Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, the same moniker used on original Yoko Ono-fronted Plastic Ono Band records.

This Winter, two concerts were scheduled, BAM and a show next week in Oakland, California.

The BAM line-up was impressive: Plastic Ono Band, Mark Ronson, Scissor Sisters, Justin Bond, Haroumi Hosono, Gene Ween, Sonic Youth, Bette Midler, Paul Simon and Harper Simon, and then, as if that weren't enough, original Plastic Ono Band members Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann, and Jim Keltner.

Martha Wainwright was scheduled to appear, but was unable to perform. The recent death of her mother, the great Kate McGarrigle, likely played a role in her absence.

BAM's lobby was decorated in Yoko Ono art spanning her career from the 1966 installation "Apple" and the film "Bottoms" to a brand new "War Is Over" banner and "Wish Tree For BAM."

When tickets were first on sale, I failed to get through on time and believed I would not see this show. The next day, the band decided to make the Dress Rehearsal on Monday a Public event and tickets were sold, promising only that POB would perform, none of the special guests were promised. This was plenty for me, because I had never seen Yoko perform and as today is her 77th birthday, it is unlikely I will have many more chances in the coming decades. I saw both Eric Clapton and Bette Midler perform in the 1970s, so their absence from this rehearsal was not a deterrent. I called as soon as the Rehearsal was announced and got seats 3rd Row Center.

Last Saturday I was up and surfing around the web when I read that additional VIP seats had been released for the show. I clicked and typed as fast as I could and got two seats in the 15th Row Center.

My date would be my five-year-old (actually 5 and 11/12ths year old), who would see her first BIG ROCK SHOW.

Having attended the dress rehearsal the night before, I knew there was nudity in many of the films and I told her so. She was nonplussed. When we arrived her first view was of the movie "Bottoms" which is footage of male and female bums in motion. She took it in stride and although she giggled at first. it appeared that she got it, that she understood that this was "art." We collected our tickets from Will Call, checked our coats, and made our way inside the theater.

The usher explained that our VIP gifts were being distributed in the VIP Lounge back in the lobby and we made our way to collect our autographed posters and copies of the band's CD. We relaxed on the couch and chatted about the art, before making our way inside.

Our seats were more than adequate, and an usher appeared a moment later with a thick black booster cushion for my daughter. We giggled approvingly about the "Welcoming Birds" video by Jordan Galland showing on the stage. It was a drawing of Yoko by Sean with her mouth open in song and a soundtrack of birds chirping, and as the video looped, birds would appear to fly out of Yoko's mouth. My daughter was anxious about the show starting and then, only a couple of minutes after eight, the lights went down.

Yoko performed an a capella version, alone in a spotlight in front of the black curtain, of "It Happened."

The curtain rose and the new Plastic Ono Band appeared. Sean Lennon looking frighteningly like his father was the band leader, and although his leadership skills are a tad awkward, he will likely get better with experience (I mean, look at the genes). The band then performed a medley of "Waiting for the D Train" and "Why," then the title track of the new release "Between My Head And The Sky," a wonderful rendition of the early-century "Rising," a very danceable "Walking On Thin Ice," and "Calling."

Next was a real treat as she performed 1971's "Mind Train" and "Ask The Elephant." The first act ended with the beautiful "Higa Noboru" from the new CD.

The band member who stands out, after the initial shock of Sean looking just like his dad, is the striking beauty Yuka Honda on keyboards, who I may have to write about some day as I learn more about her. It was not only her magnificent and stylish stage presence, but the way she was fully engaged in the process of making the music, of performing and creating. She oozes music and sophistication.

A short intermission preceded Act II.

When it was announced that today is Yoko's birthday, the audience belted-out an impromptu rendition of "Happy Birthday" that made Yoko very happy.

All the artists performed Yoko Ono or John Lennon songs.

"The Sun Is Down" by Scissor Sisters kicked off the fun. A spirited dance number played by Plastic Ono Band and sung by Jake Shears and Ana Matronic had both of us bopping in our seats.

Justin Bond is a transgender/drag performance artist who performs as Kiki of Kiki & Herb fame. "What A Bastard The World Is" from Yoko's "Approximately Infinite Universe" 1973 record was delivered perfectly by this chanteuse who seemed to become enmeshed, interwoven with the lyrics and the desperate spirit of the song. His dramatic, almost exaggerated, gestures during the plaintive song was both humorous and moving.

Although I was aware of the band Ween, I was never plugged-in. Aaron Freeman (a/k/a Gene Ween) joined Sean Lennon for a trying, but lovely guitar duet of John Lennon's "Oh Yoko." Neither could truly hit the high notes that made the original such a tender love song; but their dedication to the effort and their good-humored presence made it a wonderful rendition.

I have been a Sonic Youth fan since the mid-198s when I saw them perform in Boston. I liked the No-Wave movement, and their station at the top of the heap may or may not be well-earned and well-deserved. I happen to be a fan of James Chance and think his No-Wave work was much more entertaining. Nonetheless, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore hold seats of esteem in the pantheon of No-Wave. They have always expressed their gratitude to Yoko for her inspiration and encouraged her to return to music after the assassination of her husband. For this performance, Yoko wrote a new song based on her experience during war-time Japan when many children were sent to the country, to be safe from the world's conflict. She remembers picking mulberries for her younger siblings to eat during a beautiful sunset on the mountains. "Mulberry" is the piece that emerged. During the rehearsal on Monday, I remember that the word Mulberries was actually sung/spoken at moments during the song, but I do not recall a single utterance of the word during the actual performance on Tuesday.

Gordon and Moore manipulated their guitars to create a discordant background, completely devoid of rhythm or motion, and Yoko yokodeled along with them.

The result was neither impressive nor entertaining and provided comic relief for many sitting around us. Nobody guffawed, but the giggles were louder than they should have politely been. At one point I found myself quietly laughing under my breath and I received a glaring stare from my daughter for the disrespect.

There are few entertainers as entertaining as Bette Midler. Her choice for the night's performance was "Yes, I'm Your Angel" from the Double Fantasy album. Midler chose a playful rendition that was missing only a calliope from the band. She delivered a sensuous and loving song that made me tingle inside. I wanted her to stay and sing more.

The black curtain dropped on the stage and Sean's lifelong friend, Harper Simon, and his father Paul Simon took the stage with guitars and performed loving renditions of "Silverhorse" from Yoko's 1981 Season Of Glass release, and John Lennon's "Hold On" from the original John Lennon Plastic Ono Band release of 1970. Both songs were wonderful, but the Simons' rendition of "Hold On" was moving and beautiful.

As the Simons left the stage, the black curtain rose to show Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann, Jim Keltner and Sean looking like an old-fashioned rock band. Clapton stood in place, detached but not vacant, seemingly bemused as opposed to amused by the event. When the opening chords of the Lennon-McCartney classic "Yer Blues" were struck, Yoko began emerging from a large sack in the middle of the stage. Spirited and well-done versions of "Death of Samantha" and "Don't Worry Kyoko" followed, along with anecdotes about the original POB and the recording sessions. Laughs and smiles all around.

I was amazed by this performance and could not have ever in my life imagined that I would have witnessed a performance by Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band.

I was flying high as that performance ended and the entire cast, except of Eric Clapton, took the stage to lead the crowd in "Give Peace A Chance" for a finale.

I could have sat in my seat all night just chatting about the show and reminiscing about what had just taken place. My daughter and I did that for a little bit to let the crowd thin, and many of our neighbors asked her about it. She liked it, a lot, except for "Mulberry" and the stinky perfume of the man sitting on my other side.

We took a photo in the lobby and made our way home both completely energized. We stayed up until 1:30 AM, just aglow for the experience.

Happy Birthday, Yoko!

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