BootLeg Betty

The Reviews Are In: Bette’s A Hit!

Yoko Ono and All Star Friends Jam In Brooklyn
by David Marchese, Spin

During the career-spanning video montage that opened Tuesday night’s We Are Plastic Ono Band concert celebration of Yoko Ono at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a quote from actress Ann Magnuson flashed on the screen: “There’s a reason the coolest guy in the world fell in love with her.”

And if the evening’s star-studded renditions of Ono’s songs wasn’t likely to win over those who aren’t already down with twisted avant-garde funk, resolutely childlike pop, and the guest of honor’s trademark warbling, wobbling, and shrieking vocalizing, the constant cries of “We Love You, Yoko” coming from audience suggested that those who are went home happy.

The concert was split into two halves. The first featured Ono, wearing sunglasses, a top hat, tight black pants, and a very low-cut black blouse, fronting an eight-piece band led by her son Sean Lennon, who spent the night switching between bass, piano, and guitar.

Mention Ono’s vocals to the casual music fan and you might hear a joke about cats in heat. Such comments, for better or worse, are basically accurate. On newer songs like the lurching “Moving Mountains” and roiling “Between My Head and the Sky,” Ono’s mewling and caterwauling were at their fiercest, as the 76-year-old (she turns 77 on February 18, a fact the crowd acknowledged with a mid-set “Happy Birthday”) wordlessly wailed, ululated, and straight-up screamed while two-stepping and strutting across the stage.

Listened to with any cynicism at all, this stuff sounds like a shrill put-on. This is singing? But if you can accept the sounds for what they are — pure unfettered expressions of emotion — then they start to make sense, conceptually anyway.

Ono’s more straightforward songs bypassed any need for ontological leaps. The bopping, New Wave-wish “Walking On Thin Ice” and plaintive “It Happened,” both originally released in 1981, showed that her back catalogue features its share of pop gems studded amongst the more notorious sonic explorations.

With a few coruscating exceptions, it was those less difficult pages of Ono’s songbook that were the focus of the second half of the night, as a bizarre mish-mash of friends and fans took turns paying musical tribute. I would have paid to know what Bette Midler, who mugged her way through a cartoonish cabaret jazz version of “Yes, I’m Your Angel,” and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, whose rendition of “Mulberry” saw them accompany some Yokodeling with their own abrasive bass and guitar feedback, had to talk about backstage once they got past “Isn’t Yoko great?”

The guests that kept things simple delivered the most affecting performances. Paul Simon and his singer-songwriter son Harper shone on a sparkling acoustic guitar and voice run-through of the hymnlike “Silverhorse,” which the duo then segued into John Lennon’s “Hold On.”

The latter’s “Oh Yoko!” from Imagine was given an endearingly ragged airing by his son and Gene Ween of goof-rockers Ween, both of whom struggled charmingly to hit the song’s high notes, an obstacle that Jake Shears and Ana Matronic of the Scissor Sisters had no problem avoiding (sometimes to a distressing degree) on Ono’s electro-poppy “The Sun Is Down.”

It was another John song that drew the night’s biggest cheers, as after Simon and Son left the stage (they’d been performing at the lip, in front of the drawn curtain), the curtain was raised to reveal Eric Clapton, in town for two nights at Madison Square Garden with fellow guitar virtuoso Jeff Beck later in the week, as he grinded out the nasty blues riff of the Beatles “Yer Blues” backed by Sean on guitar and longtime Ono associates Klaus Voorman on bass and Jim Keltner on drums.

Clapton stuck around too add some smoky sting to a slyly grooving “Death of Samantha,” from Ono’s 1973 album Approximately Infinite Universe, and some raunchy slide to “Don’t Worry Kyoko,” the original version of which he guested on more than forty years ago. This time, though, he cast bemused glances at the Lennon-Onos, who were busy getting their free-form on while he played anchor, repeating the same low-string riff over and over to the song’s conclusion.

We Are Plastic Ono Band
As these things often do, the night concluded with an All Star jam. Sean invited all the performers onto the stage for a “Give Peace A Chance” sing-a-long. Like so much of what came before, this final performance was baggy, self-indulgent, maybe better in theory than practice, and in its sheer and utter lack of irony and sarcasm, something close to irresistible.

Yoko Ono Lennon & Sean Lennon
Last Night’s Concert: Yoko Ono and Plastic Ono Band at BAM
by Kelsey Keith, Flavorwire

Yoko Ono is turning 77 tomorrow. Keep that in mind as you imagine the performance artist shimmying, writhing, caterwauling, and charming the pants off the audience at Brooklyn Academy of Music on Tuesday night. The show began with a montage of Ono recordings, films, interview clips, and photos from her days with husband John Lennon, and ended with a cavalcade of special guests that frankly kind of blew us away. Rundown of the entire performance by We Are Plastic Ono Band, plus an image gallery featuring Eric Clapton and the Scissor Sisters, after the jump.

The first set was a fast and furious tour through the Yoko Ono discography, including the title track from her latest record release, Between My Head & the Sky, and a rendition of “Rising” with son Sean — the emcee-of-sorts — as accompaniment. And in case you wondering, the lady can still scream.

The second act, less rehearsed but equipped with a magical spontaneity, included guest appearances byScissor Sisters — who performed “The Sun is Down” as a dance-y duet in front of an animated short from the ’60s — and a heartstring-tugging acoustic version of “Oh Yoko” by Gene Ween. Justin Bond, in sequined leggings, took on “What a Bastard the World Is” before things got experimental with Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, who thrashed conceptually (think lots of reverb and dissonant bass notes) as Ono wailed “Mulberry.”

Bette Midler owned the audience with a whimsical take on “Yes, I’m Your Angel,” which Ono explained that she wrote to cheer up Lennon on the eve of his 40th birthday. After an appearance by Paul Simon and son Harper, a childhood friend of Sean’s from The Dakota and Central Park West, Eric Clapton took the stage for a searing “Yer Blues” (originally on the Beatles’ White Album, on which Clapton played as session guitarist) followed by Ono songs “Death of Samantha” and “Don’t Worry Kyoko.” Two original members of Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band — Klaus Voormann and Jim Keltner — played backup, marking the first time in four decades that the group of musicians had jammed together.

The finale was — as you might have guessed — a group performance of “Give Peace a Chance,” set to a dark auditorium punctuated by flashlight, a reference to the Onochord, a device meant to spell out “I love you” with a series of Morse code flashes.

Sidenote: if you don’t follow Ono’s Twitter feed, we would heartily recommend it.

The program and Onochord light (Jen Carlson/Gothamist)
Live From BAM: Yoko Ono & Friends
by Jen Carlson, The Gothamist

Last night BAM housed quite an insane lineup, all part of Yoko Ono’s We Are The Plastic Ono Band one-night-only concert. We were lucky enough to be at the show, where the widow of John Lennon celebrated her 77th birthday (it’s tomorrow) just like the rest of us would—with friends like Bette Midler, Eric Clapton, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Paul Simon… you know, just a small gathering of some the biggest names in music.

The show began with a video tribute to Ono put together by her son Sean Lennon, who also served as a gracious host for the evening, introducing each musician and praising his mom from behind whatever instrument he happened to be playing at the time. The first act was all Ono, with a band backing her that included Sean as well as Mark Ronson.

The second act brought out a mixed bag of guest musicians, for the most part all singing Ono’s songs in their own way (though there was a rendition of the Beatles “Yer Blues” courtesy of Mr. Clapton). The Scissor Sisters, Gene Ween, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, Bette Midler (with Sean Lennon, Doveman, and others backing her), Justin Bond, Paul Simon and his son Harper, Beatles collaborator Klaus Voormann, Eric Clapton… they were all there. Ono noted that this was the first time she, Clapton and Voormann had played together in 40 years! And at the end, the group (sans an M.I.A. Clapton) came back on stage for an all-star rendition of “Give Peace A Chance,” with new lyrics penned by Ono that she grabbed from the morning’s headlines. We snuck some video that you can see after the jump (the entire show was also filmed, so expect a DVD at some point).

We’ll leave you with some parting advice courtesy of Justin Bond, who performed “What A Bastard the World Is” last night—he told the audience to follow Ono on Twitter and do everything she says. If you want to play catch-up, on the 12th she told her online audience: “I would advise you to send a bucket of shadow to a friend.”

Yoko Ono Honored by Eric Clapton, Paul Simon and More in New York
by Kenneth Partridge, Spinner

Due to a malfunctioning microphone, Yoko Ono stood momentarily mute Tuesday night at New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music, mouthing inaudible cackles while her son, Sean Lennon, sloshed with Eric Clapton through a mean and muddy version of the Beatles’ ‘Yer Blues.’

Without hesitation, a stagehand rushed from the wings and handed Ono a working microphone, allowing her feral shrieks to compete with Slowhand’s expert riffing.

On any other night, that stagehand might have risked boos and lobbed bottles. Not on Tuesday, however, as an incongruous bunch of musicians joined forces for ‘We Are Plastic Ono Band,’ a loving tribute to Ono and her various artistic achievements.

The performance featured everyone from Sonic Youth principals Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore — whose dual-guitar take on ‘Mulberry’ evoked the World War II air-raid drill Ono said inspired the song — to Bette Midler, who vamped it up on a flirty, jazzy ‘Yes, I’m Your Angel.’

Paul Simon and son Harper sang a pair of duets, including a tender ‘Hold On,’ from 1970’s ‘John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ album, while alt-rock mainstay Gene Ween joined Sean Lennon — the evening’s musical director — for a spot-on ‘Oh Yoko,’ another highlight from John’s solo catalog.

The drag-queen torch singer and performance artist Justin Bond got hammy on ‘What a Bastard the World Is,’ switching back and forth between his male and female voice, acting out a scoundrel’s attempts to win back his woman. Scissor Sisters singers Jake Shears and Ana Matronic, meanwhile, presided over a funky ‘The Sun Is Down,’ sashaying like Wham in the ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ video.

The show was split into two acts, the first of which centered more on Ono, who turns 77 tomorrow, than special guests. The artist — “singer” isn’t quite the word — offered up plenty of her patented oscillating high-pitched mating-call vocals, transforming the placid likes of ‘Rising’ into nightmarish lullabies.

As a short film that prefaced the concert emphasized, such fearlessness has long defined Ono’s art. Whether painting or protesting, cutting disco-funk records or making movies of mosquitoes walking across her naked body, she’s always pushed audiences to put aside comfort and view the world from novel angles.

While some critics — particularly those operating under the misconception she broke up the Beatles — are dubious of Ono’s talent, the musicians on hand for ‘We Are Plastic Ono Band’ have long since swilled the Kool-Aid.

The entire cast took the stage for an encore rendition of ‘Give Peace a Chance,’ a slapdash version whose new Ono-penned lyrics were inspired by the morning’s newspaper headlines. The number had barely been rehearsed — at a run-through the night before, the ensemble played in a different key — and Ono must have known there was a chance the whole thing would fall apart.

Naturally, she did it anyway.

About YOKO ONO PLASTIC ONO BAND
Launched in 1969 with the single “Give Peace a Chance”, PLASTIC ONO BAND is known worldwide for its avant-garde music, film, art and activism. Early ’70s albums by the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band have proven to be influential and ahead-of-their-time.

40 years later, Yoko has revived the name and spirit of PLASTIC ONO BAND, joined by son and co-producer Sean Lennon along with the creative Japanese musicians Haruomi Hosono, Yuka Honda and Cornelius (Keigo Oyamada, Naoki Shimizu and Yuko Araki).

Between My Head And The Sky (released 9/29/09) has garnered impressive critical acclaim, including four & five-star reviews from Rolling Stone, Mojo, Spin, Uncut, Q, NME, Nylon, Pitchfork and others. Last year, Yoko was recognized with the prestigious Golden Lion lifetime achievement award at the Venice Biennale, and the Mojo Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award.

On Tuesday, February 16, 2010, Yoko will perform a very special concert featuring the “new” Plastic Ono Band, along with original members Eric Clapton and Klaus Voorman, plus an intriguing cast of special guests, friends & accomplices. It promises to be a unique, unpredictable and unforgettable evening.

Gilman Opera House, Brooklyn Academy of Music
30 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn NY 11217 [map]
February 16, 2010

Death + Taxes Magazine
Yoko Ono, Sonic Youth, Eric Clapton, Bette Midler Come Together For Peace
Colm McAuliffe :: Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 3:45 pm

In what was undoubtedly the most bizarre array of musicians I have ever witnessed, Yoko Ono celebrated her upcoming 77th birthday and her musical career with this mass collaboration at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Hosted by her son Sean Lennon, the sprightly avant-garde guru sang selections from her career, initially with the ‘new’ Plastic Ono Band (featuring Mark Ronson) and subsequently with an all-star cast – Scissor Sisters, Justin Bond, Gene Ween, Kim Gordon & Thurston Moore, Bette Midler, Paul & Harper Simon, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman and session drummer extraodinaire Jim Keltner.

Did this work? In places, yes, wonderfully. Gene Ween duetted brilliantly with Sean Lennon on “Oh Yoko” while Bette Midler was, for me, the surprise attraction of the night as she re-interpreted “Yes, I’m Your Angel” into a big band 1940s style arrangement to rapturous applause. Others were not so successful – Kim and Thurston’s sadly predictable barrage of guitar noise and feedback was simply tedious while Paul Simon’s two duets with his son Harper never took off. And the less said about Justin Bond the better.

The evening finished with a mass singalong of “Give Peace A Chance”; irrespective of the blase sentiments, it was truly surreal to see this insane line-up all come together for the very faltering finale. The overriding aspect of this evening was that is was an EVENT in every sense of the word. There was an undeniably sycophantic thrill at seeing the likes of Clapton et al performing on stage and while it may not have been the tightest performance of all time, it was thoroughly enjoyable throughout.

The music was accompanied throughout by visuals including an opening film created by Sean Lennon and Jenny Golden while the lobby area of BAM was stocked with installations ranging from a wish tree to ‘War Is Over!’ and ‘Imagine Peace’ banners. There were sporadic references to John Lennon but on the whole, this was a celebration that was all Yoko.

NYTimes
February 18, 2010
MUSIC REVIEW | ‘WE ARE PLASTIC ONO BAND’
Amid All That Experience, Innocence
By JON PARELES

In some ways Yoko Ono is still an amateur. At “We Are Plastic Ono Band,” mixing concert and tribute at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Tuesday night, her voice could be shaky and her stage patter giggly and unplanned. She looked genuinely surprised when the audience interrupted her and sang “Happy Birthday.” (She turns 77 on Feb. 18.) She’s also untamed. She can still let loose the bleats, wails, yips, howls and shrieks that alienated Beatles fans in the 1960s and inspired avant-rockers soon afterward.

Ms. Ono’s well-preserved air of naïveté — and the license it gives her to say things simply and primally — has been her artistic gift since the ’60s, first as a conceptual artist and then, with John Lennon’s impetus, as a rocker and songwriter. She reveals things with purposeful guilelessness: physically in her ’60s performance art and films, and emotionally in songs like “It Happened,” which she sang unaccompanied to start the concert: “I know there’s no return.” Now her main collaborator is her son, Sean Ono Lennon, who organized the show and led the band.

“We Are Plastic Ono Band” brought together, for the first time in decades, members of the informal group John Lennon assembled in 1969: Eric Clapton on guitar, Jim Keltner on drums and Klaus Voorman on bass. Guests, including Paul Simon, Bette Midler and members of Sonic Youth, also performed songs by Ms. Ono and by John Lennon.

But Ms. Ono was never overshadowed. For the first half of the concert she performed songs from her 2009 album, “Between My Head and the Sky” (Chimera) and some older ones, like “Walking on Thin Ice.” The band vamped through hard rock, funk and psychedelic drone, closely following her voice. Singing melodies, Ms. Ono sounded high and fragile, as deliberately exposed as the lyrics. And her wordless sounds were by no means random. They were ghostly, furious, dreamy, caustic, urgent, exultant, orgasmic. Between the abstractions were tidings of peace-and-love optimism, of loss and loneliness, and of uncertainty. She ended her set with “Higa Noboru,” a ballad set to impressionistic piano chords: “I hear the fish calling from the ocean/I hear the birds warning from the sky,” she recited.

Guest singers claimed Ms. Ono’s songs for their own genres. Ana Matronic and Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters rode a disco beat in “The Sun Is Down,” dancing across the stage in glittery shoes. The cabaret singer Justin Bond, in high heels, reveled in the drama of the bitterly ambivalent breakup song “What a Bastard the World Is.” Mr. Simon and Harper Simon, his son, fingerpicked acoustic guitars in the fond “Silverhorse” and John Lennon’s “Hold On.” Ms. Midler gave Ms. Ono’s whimsical birthday song, “Yes, I’m Your Angel,” a winking New Orleans insouciance, lingering over the tra-la-las. Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, the married couple in Sonic Youth, joined Ms. Ono to perform the arrhythmic noise of “Mulberry,” making guitars clank and screech to mirror her voice.

The reunited Plastic Ono Band was still proudly unrehearsed, crunchy and sinewy. Mr. Clapton sent slow-blues phrases curling around Ms. Ono’s voice in the elegiac “Death of Samantha,” and the band turned the blues-rock stomp of “Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)” into a full-fledged maelstrom. Naturally Ms. Ono ended the concert with “Give Peace a Chance,” the 1969 song that introduced the Plastic Ono Band, adding updated lyrics, flashing V signs and leading a singalong.

Sean Ono Lennon said onstage that he had tried to get Mr. Clapton to show him the slide-guitar part for “Don’t Worry Kyoko.” But in 1969, he was told, the Plastic Ono Band and Mr. Clapton were “having so much fun that he has no idea what they were doing.” Ms. Ono spoke up. “I knew what I was doing,” she said — not so naïve after all.

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8 thoughts on “The Reviews Are In: Bette’s A Hit!

  1. Don, that’s not even news anymore that’s general knowledge. For example, the sky is blue and the grass is green. Michael Jackson is black, and Jayson Larocque is a loser!! 😛

  2. Mr D.- I hope Bette puts this on her new album? or at the very least a DVD of this concert comes out! This songs reminds me of early Bette, twisted and the like, and I just enjoyed it so much!!!

    THANK YOU FOR THIS!!

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