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.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. This post is an embarrassing inflation of Yoko’s importance and influence. Really, dude, get some perspective. It’s such fanboy foaming at the mouth.

    Yoko is a minor figure who has been able to get her music more attention that it would otherwise have gotten for one reason — Lennon’s money. There many, many, many more important, alternative artists who have produced far, far better work that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves because they didn’t marry multimillionaire rock stars.

    • Yoko’s importance to art and music cannot be overstated. She was making art and music unlike any other way before there were alternative artists, many of whom rightfully credit her as an influence.

      It’s sad that so few understand that long before Yoko met John, she was lying naked on John Cage’s piano doing improvisational pieces that critics, whose job is to recognize groundbreaking new trends in art, praised.

      If it were your grandmother that scored six #1 hits in a row on Billboard’s Dance chart and was headlining at one of the coolest music festivals around, you would no doubt be proud of her.

      • Great reply.

        That puts them in their place.

        I wish I could have been at that gig. Yoko was hampered by being associated with the Beatles, not helped.

    • It’s a tragedy of the modern Internet age that people manage tor confuse well written positive reviews with foaming at the mouth.
      The modern Internet troll is a sad old man who despises everything.
      I can’t imagine a woman making great art fits in this soggy bellied, lonely world.

  2. I love this review. I love this freakin’ family. To the top poster: whatever. It’s super easy to minimize Yoko’s contributions to art and music because EVERYONE does it. But you have to delve deeper and recognize her for what she has done/is doing. Sean is simply amazing. There is nothing fame-seeking or self-righteous about them. They are what they are. John would be proud, badass that he was, that people care enough to even get pissed over Yoko being deservedly praised. Keep it up both of you…John loves on through you.

  3. Yoko herself has admitted she didn’t do any work on those dance mixes. The remixers did the work. She just gets the credit. Remixers can and do take all sorts of songs and turn them into dance hits. It’s not any sort of achievement on her part.

    I didn’t say Yoko didn’t deserve praise. She’s made contributions to the art world — as have dozens and dozens of other artists who don’t get anywhere near the PR that she does. This inflation of her importance (especially in the music world) is ridiculous, and a bit pathetic. And you’re kidding yourselves if you think she would have ever received even a tenth of the attention she’s received if she hadn’t married Lennon. His name and money bought her publicity. And she’s used Beatles money to finance the release of all her records, as none of them sold well on their own. So I’d say she’s benefited quite tidily from the Beatles and still does.

    And the idea that she was making alternative art before anyone else? COME ON. You do realize how ill-informed a statement that is, don’t you? But I’m sorry, I didn’t realize comments sections were only for over-the-top fan worship. Gimme some truth.

    • Using the internet to slag off musicians surely demonstrates just how much more ahead of your time you are than some old so-called “performance artist.” Your sly Duchampian swipe at the “ready-made” insults slung at Ms. Ono shows a rare sense of humor and am insightful understanding of the sad state of our current media culture.

      I predict that at the age of 78, your contribution to the avant-garde will consist mainly of you drooling into your lap.

  4. So glad you got the chance to see this, John. Having seen her February 2010, I know full well that your review is no exaggeration! I was waiting for that show since 1970, mind (that first LP of hers thrills me no less now than it did then, in retrospect writing a cheque that Punk went on to cash), and we were also treated to a reunion of the original POB at the end, but just on their own, this latest aggregation Sean has put together to back her up throws its sound backwards and forwards at the same time. I was so excited I nearly started beating on the head of the fellow in the seat in front of me, le sacre du printemps style! And it’s not just the full tilt stuff, as you mentioned: the stark “Higa Noboru” with only Sean’s piano behind her brings me to tears with its simplicity and beauty. Hands down my favorite show of 2010, though people still give me funny looks when I tell them….

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