Even The Rockers Surprised By Bette’s Razzle Dazzle

A hefty price tag accompanied tickets to this very special one-off at Brooklyn Academy Of Music last night, a mix of simple supply-demand economics and, presumably, underwriting costs associated with corralling these names under one ornamented roof: The reconstituted, radicalized Plastic Ono Band boasted a lineup of legends and friends of Sean Lennon to survey the audio (and visual) output of Yoko Ono, the septuagenarian battling Leonard Cohen for the title of World’s Most Vital. BAM’s lobby was adorned with various Yoko art installations, and the performance portion of the evening set in with a short film, edited by her son, honoring the many faces and phases of a life considerably less ordinary. It was touching and sweet, evoking nostalgia for a time before many attendees were born, framing the evening as a celebration of an enviable, influential output. There were two acts:

First was Plastic Ono band in its current incarnation, shifting between classics like the Ono-ululating “Why” and the mutant disco of “Walking On Thin Ice” (the demo in Lennon’s held as he passed away), and newer material from 2009’s Between My Head And The Sky. It stretched, skronked, spazzed, Sean taking each song’s principal instrument (bass for “Thin Ice,” wah-guitar for “Mind Train,” piano for “Higa Noboru”), Yoko delivering anecdotes and throwing her shoulders into that patented stage prance. For the most part this went off without a hitch, despite many caveats that rehearsal time was scarce, save those times Yoko couldn’t see her way around stage. Sunglasses are a good look, not so good for looking.

Where the first set was visceral in its vamps and psychedelic detours, set two was a more cerebral and goosepimply affair. On came the parade of cameos, covering and occasionally collaborating with Yoko, primary performers swapped out after nearly every song with background introduction from Sean. Kim and Thurston scraped guitars and bent guitar necks on the noise piece “Mulberry.” Gene Ween and Sean duetted memorably on the quintessential turn-on “Oh Yoko.” Drag queen Kiki aka Justin Bond (last seen at Doveman’s release party) tapped the humor in “What A Bastard The World Is”; Doveman himself joined the proceedings for Bette Midler‘s effortlessly charismatic razzle dazzle cabaret arrangement of “Yes, I’m Your Angel.” Bette was somewhat of a WTF punchline in emails between friends before this show; afterward all I wanted to do was rent Beaches. Either that or go deep into a Clapton excavation session. Eric joined the battery — along with other original Plastic Ono Band member, bassist Klaus Voormann — lacing creamy fretwork all over Yes I’m A Witch’s “Death Of Samantha,” muscling up “Yer Blues,” stamping “Don’t Worry Kyoko.” Dude knows. As Paul Simon harmonized during his first performance with son Harper as a guitar duet, on “Silverhorse” and “Hold On,” you couldn’t help pause for thought: This was a serious show.

Embodying the night’s collaborative spirt was the encore performance of the original well intentioned megajam “Give Peace A Chance” (take note, other well intentioned megajams), featuring the entire We Are Plastic Band performing cast (save Clapton, the rogue). Earlier in the night Justin Bond said he followed Yoko on Twitter. “Half the time I don’t know what she’s talking about. But I do everything she says. I think it’s what got me here.” He might be on to something — there were worse places to be. And few better.

Enjoy these photos by Kevin Mazur, courtesy of Wire Images.

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