Plastic Ono Band Return With Eric Clapton, Paul Simon in Brooklyn
2/17/10, 3:50 pm EST
Just before the final song of Yoko Onoâ€™s first performance in four decades with founding members of the Plastic Ono Band, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on February 16th, her son Sean told a short story: At soundcheck that day, Sean remarked to guitarist Eric Clapton that he had never played slide guitar before and wanted to know how Eric and Seanâ€™s father, John, played slide on the early, chaotic Plastic Ono Band records. Clapton replied that, at the time, he had no idea what he was doing.
Yoko turned to the BAM crowd with a coquettish grin. â€œI knew what I was doing,â€ she cracked. Then she leaped into the white-noise boogie of â€œDonâ€™t Worry, Kyokoâ€ from 1969â€™s Live Peace in Toronto with rusted shrieks and air-raid-siren whoops as Sean and Clapton played twin grinding slide guitars over a steady thundering rhythm section: original Plastic Ono bassist Klaus Voorman and drummer Jim Keltner, who played on John and Onoâ€™s 1972 album Sometime in New York City.
Coming two days before her 77th birthday, â€œWe Are Plastic Ono Bandâ€ was a two-set revue of Onoâ€™s musical life, with the first half focused on her new album, Between My Head and the Sky. The second part featured friends and disciples performing songs from her previous records, as far apart in temper and touch as â€œMulberryâ€ â€“ a wordless memoir of Onoâ€™s World War II childhood in Japan, in raw ecstatic yelps to the free-guitar discord of Sonic Youthâ€™s Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon â€“ to Bette Midlerâ€™s canny rearrangement of â€œYes Iâ€™m Your Angelâ€ from Double Fantasy into a saucy sister of â€œMakinâ€™ Whoopee.â€ You could almost hear the clinking of martini glasses amid the brass and penthouse-party piano.
The connective momentum in Onoâ€™s art is her declarative instruction and participatory assurance, from the early-Sixties action works shown in a biographical film at the start of the night â€“ Cut Piece; the ceiling painting with a microscopic â€œYesâ€ at the center â€“ to recent songs in the first set like the victory mantra â€œRisingâ€ and â€œHiga Noboru,â€ a ballad from the current album. â€œI write/I light/My message/On an invisible wall/Of prison cell hell,â€ she sang in the latter, in a tender but direct voice to Seanâ€™s firm piano work. And inside the extreme confrontation of records like 1970â€™s Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band and 1971â€™s Fly was always a love of surging rhythm. At BAM, her new Plastic Ono Band â€“ led by Sean, now 34, and including drummer Yuko Araki and Yuka Honda on keyboards â€“ updated the railroad racket of Onoâ€™s 1972 single â€œMind Trainâ€ with percolating dancefloor electronics. Ono shimmeyed to the beat as she wailed.
Performance artist Justin Bond turned â€œWhat a Bastard the World Isâ€ from 1973â€™s Approximately Infinite Universe into a blur of gender: a man dressed like a 1920s ingenue, singing a song of feminist outrage, in a hard deep tenor dotted with girl-ish flutter. Paul Simon and his son Harper, made a short poignant medley of â€œSilverhorseâ€ from 1981â€™s Season of Glass, the album Ono made after John Lennonâ€™s death, and his â€œHold On,â€ from John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band record. Played like a pair of traditional English folk ballads, with familial harmonies and two acoustic guitars, the songs captured, without melodrama, the weight of Onoâ€™s loss and her faith in unbroken connection.
The three-song set with Sean, Clapton, Voorman and Keltner was hardly as ragged as that â€˜69 Live Peace show. But it was good rough fun â€“ Voorman was beaming all through â€œYer Blues,â€ the only Beatles song of the night â€“ and Clapton soloed in the Approximately Infinite Universe blues â€œDeath of Samanthaâ€ with sharp tortuous cries, like the song was an old Mississippi Delta lament.
The evening ended with Ono and Sean leading a full-cast singalong to â€œGive Peace a Chance.â€ But the audience gave its own encore too: a spontaneous rendition, for Ono, of â€œHappy Birthday.â€ Her â€œYesâ€ piece had come to life.