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Monday, 15 June 2009

Ono's Senses Working Overtime

There isn’t a part of Yoko Ono I haven’t seen.

When she bared all on the cover of Unfinished Music Part 1: Two Vigins with her hubby John Lennon she was declaring she had nothing to hide.
The media could dig around all they want, the Ono-Lennons had gotten there first. From that moment on, Ms Ono gave herself to the world and she could take anything they were willing to throw back.
And they threw the lot.

Unhappy with her openness, she was portrayed as a loony Oriental who had contrived to break up the best loved band in history.

Flying in the face of popular opinion yet again, she becomes not just muse but musical partner of the adored Lennon.

And 40 years on she is still booking time in a recording studio. Obviously not with John, but she has collaborated with many top artists and even picked up a lifetime achievement award from Mojo magazine this month.

Taking the stage at the Royal Festival Hall’s Meltdown festival, she was visibly nervous and very slightly overwhelmed by the love and support shown by a sell out crowd.

Her Plastic Ono Band consisted of her son Sean, the producer Mark Ronson, ex Cibo Matto genius Yuka Honda, various members of the ever inventive Cornelius’ band, the torch singer Antony Heggarty and a predictable ‘surprise’ guest at the end.

The band, under the musical directorship of Sean, was tight, driven, funky and powerful.
John was always, in someway, present of course.
Like George Harrison’s son Dhani, Sean has picked up some mannerisms of the old man. As he plays his guitar he leans slightly back and bent the knees whilst chewing a piece of gum nonchalantly. It is classic John from his own Plastic Ono Band days.

This first version of the band from the late sixties featured John, Yoko, Ringo, George, Clapton, Keith Moon and Klaus Voormann among others.

The current incarnation is more than a match.

The drummer, a pocket dynamo who looked like a Japanese Grayson Perry, was the true star. She never broke into a smile once and poured all her energy into keeping an inventive rhythm for a well oiled machine.

Sean was waving instructions to the sound men in the wings all through the show as well as counting in all the various break downs and crescendos.

Oh, and he dabbles with drums, bass, guitar and piano too.

Yoko looked lost out in front but had a steely determination to open her soul.
She wailed and screeched, sobbed and sang her way through an hour and half’s worth of material.

At 76, she looks fab, with the ever present floppy cap and rectangular glasses framing that familiar, wide face.

She bantered with the crowd and was funny without realising it for most of it, especially when reminiscing with Sean about his teenage years.

When the imposing frame of Antony of & the Johnsons fame moved into position and gave Ono a hug, it was like Andre the Giant enveloping Mr Miyagi, unintentionally hilarious.

But then, of course, he sings.

It’s a fragile glass tumbler of a voice and when matched with Yoko’s off-key harmonising you could understand why Sean asked for the big’un’s mic to be turned up.

At the end of the day Ono is a conceptual artist and had great success in the early 60’s and beyond as part of the Fluxus movement and it was with her still quite vividly shocking film Fly that she finally hit the right note.

The tiny carefree insect crawling over a pink nipple and into the dark groin of a young woman was offset by Sean, kneeling and gurning, almost masturbating his guitar into a feedback frenzy.

The vagina on screen was 15 feet high and the noise could have woken the dead but the fly just went unflinchingly about its business. A superb use of the space they had for the evening.

The night ended with more controlled mayhem as the special guest, festival curator Ornette Coleman, wove free form patterns across the uneven mesh of Yoko and the band with his sax while the audience flashed ‘I Love You’ with their Ono torches which were given to us on the way in.

A topsy-turvy night finally made total sense as she provoked most of our senses. She achieved what she has always asked of the world – to make us think.
Our preconceptions were stripped as bare as the cover stars of that album from 1968.


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