Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band – live at SXSW
Yoko Ono and the new Plastic Ono Band
The Ghost Of A Sabretooth Tiger
This is a moment.
A moment of pure spine tingling genius. One of those moments that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck and a moment that you lock into.
Yoko Ono has gone into one of those trilling vocal things that she does and she sounds like nothing else. The closest I can think of is the late and great Ari Up in her Slits prime or John Lydon on Metal Box. That boundary breaking use of the voice to go somewhere else- somewhere deep, dark and emotional. This is the primal scream therapy that she and John famously went through in 1970 that you had heard so much about and it’s pouring out live right in front of you and it’s insanely powerful and knocks you off kilter.
Yoko Ono is currently making a musical connection that was unthinkable in the early seventies. Her future music on songs like ‘It’s Very Hard’ and ‘Mind Train’ suddenly sound like the now.
Keeping it in the family support comes from her and John’s only son Sean, whose Chimera label are hosting the night, and his band The Ghost Of A Sabretooth Tiger, an off the wall baroque, trippy and dreamy take on nu folk and a lot more. Sean and fellow vocalist and girlfriend, Charlotte Kemp Muhi, sit down and sing their kooky songs of New York kool that are both endearing and effective.
Sean is operating in his own space and sonically owes his father nothing. When you look at him, though, you can see his father in little mannerisms- the way he raises his eyebrows and the way he owns the music, the way he hunches over his guitar and maybe his glasses and beard combo hint at Lennon sr. from the Strawberry Fields video.
This, though, is a very different music from the bruised soul of Lennon senior whose classic, rasping voice was stained with growing up in the monochrome post war UK and the plaintive need to communicate and change the world. Sean sounds like the hyper smart kid who grew up in a strange world far removed the streets but has not let that effect him. His funny and sweet explanations of the songs and his charming modesty hide his songwriting nous and sparkling originality.
It feels like after a few years of various projects Lennon jr has found his own space to exist in and he perfectly sets the stage for his mother.
It’s fair to say that Yoko Ono live is the best moment of sxsw- 78 year old woman on stage in an expensive hat is making a music that is way ahead of the pack, a 21st century disco that most of us are just catching up with.
I always loved the Beatles and that’s how I discovered Yoko. Someone at school leant me the John and Yoko late sixties debut album, Two Virgins, in the mid seventies and my initial shock at the freeform, skronky squall broke down as I hooked onto the voice and it was like nothing else I’d ever heard. In the interview at sxsw the day before the gig Yoko said that she had never liked her voice initially and that it was John that encouraged her to use it. They got a lot of flak at the time, even the avant garde set were having none of it and Yoko got the blame for splitting the Beatles up but that dream was already over bar a few great later albums that were more like Beatle solo compilations.
John and Yoko would ignore the critics and make records together including, ‘Walking On Ice’ the disco tinged classic that they were working on the night that Lennon got murdered. Since then Yoko has pretty well left the music behind apart from intermittent criticaly acclaimed dance tracks until recently.
On stage in 2011 to a packed house the adoration level goes through the rood. It’s like people have finally caught up with her off killer vision.
The band, made up of members of Deerhoof, Wilco, Cornelius and Cibo Matto and led by Sean Ono Lennon play a mystical rock, disco funk that on it’s own is groundbreaking with Sean proving to be a very adept guitar player- possibly more skilful than his father was. Sean can play a slinky freak blues or just great splotches of Keith Levene style noise on tracks like No No No. He has an originality and a musicality that he has kept just below the surface, perhaps keen to avoid the glare of the Beatle spotlight.
It’s Yokos’ gig though and her plaintive, emotional singing, that sometimes breaks into ad hoc poetry and primal wailings is addictive. No one will let her leave the stage and she comes back for one more song 20 minutes after the end of the set for accompanied by Sean on keyboards. It’s a poignant and powerful moment.
And all the time you can feel the presence of John, the old Beatle would be full of joy that the world has caught up with Yoko and that their freak noodlings in then late sixties suddenly sound like pop music, because if Yoko is not careful she could have a hit with this.