Thanks to rosiebird, who wonderfully let me know that it was happening, but then sadly had to work and could not come, I saw Yoko Ono at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music last night, with mary_wroth. I don’t even have words. Yoko is 76 years old — in Catherine’s usual delicate phraseology, “a little old lady.” She moves haltingly and her dance moves look endearingly awkward as a result.
But nobody’s going to help her across the street. Fronting a nine-person band led by Sean, her son with John, she launched a full-scale assault, tearing through old and new songs like a woman possessed. Her unbelievable voice is still powerful, and songs like “Walking On Thin Ice” (the song she and John were working on the night he was killed, probably the single best dance record of the eighties, one that Nile Rodgers expressed significant admiration for and one that will change your opinion of John Lennon’s guitar playing forever) rocked harder and kicked more ass than everything happening in every club in Billyburg last night. She did the entire first set, then a cast of guest starts paid tribute to her in the second set, ranging from Bette Midler (whose version of “I’m Your Angel” was outrageously perfect) to Paul Simon and his son who played a gorgeous acoustic duet.
Sean — whose standout moment for me was on bass, doing killer work on “Thin Ice” — looks so much like his father it’s scary. He and Gene Wene did an acoustic duet of “Oh Yoko,” the sweet and silly Lennon composition that closes Imagine, that was utterly heart-rending.
The best part of this show, though, was the fact that the followup to that sweet moment was the appearance of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth, who wrenched terrifying noises out of twin electric guitars, effected and fed back into a wall of noise, while Yoko sang “Mulberry,” the song from her 2001 album Blueprint For a Sunrise about her wartime childhood experiences trying to find enough food for herself and her younger siblings. Her ululating, shrieking vocals melded so perfectly with the guitar pyrotechnics that you could not tell them apart; Kim and Thurston kept exchanging glances of astonishment at what they were all doing together.
The show closed with a set by the original Plastic Ono Band: Klaus Voorman, the bass player who drew the cover of Revolver; session legend Jim Keltner on drums*, and Eric Clapton on lead guitar. Sean played his father’s part, opening with an outstanding vocal on the classic “Yer Blues.” Afterward he said that during rehearsal the night before, Clapton had shown him how to properly play Lennon’s slurred guitar part on the original.
They followed that up with “Death oF Samantha,” from Yoko’s 1972 Approximately Infinite Universe which was not a Plastic Ono Band album, but Clapton killed it with a tight rhythm and incredible leads, dueting with Yoko’s voice. They closed out with “Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In the Snow),” one of the songs from the second side of the Live Peace In Toronto album that most people don’t play. Clapton reprised his avant-blues pyrotechnics and Sean did his best on John’s slide part, which he said Clapton had given him some tips on. Yoko rode the tide of noise like a surfer with a chainsaw: graceful, flowing, astonishing, and dangerous.
I wish they’d had the courage to end the show the way the 1969 concert ended, with Lennon and Clapton leaning their still-sounding guitars against their amps, and leaving the stage as the feedback shrieked. Instead we got the obligatory stage full of stars (sans Clapton, who was incredibly respectful in his supporting role) singing “Give Peace a Chance.” But even that had its moments, especially going into the third verse which Sean and Yoko were going to sing together. “Mom, this is our verse,” Sean called out, trying to get Yoko’s attention. “Mom, this is us now!”
*I told Catherine last night that this was the band that performed at the Live Peace In Toronto concert. That’s not true; the drummer there was another British session legend, Alan White. Keltner played on the twin Plastic Ono Band albums that John and Yoko released in 1970.