When my sister and I were kids we would sing and talk to each other in this made-up language that consisted of wailing sounds sped up or slowed down by the amount of vibrato we put into it. In the late-60s when I first heard Yoko Ono singing both with John Lennon and then on her solo albums I was pleasantly surprised to hear our made-up sounds sung by an artist. Others could make fun of her all they wanted. I knew what she was saying.
I was looking through the Bowery Ballroom calendar and saw that Yoko was performing soon and the concert was sold out. Kenny (the sound guy at the Bowery) was kind enough to get me on the house list and I got to see her live for the second time in my life. Since she’s 80 years old you might think that her performing days would be over soon but, based on her performance on Sunday night, this woman is will be performing for many years to come. She’s a tiny fount of light, love, and joy with emotions that spill from the stage across the room and into our hearts and then out into the street and into the hearts of every living soul. She’s got too much energy for just one person.
I got there late and someone at the door handed me this small flashlight. I almost refused it because I was in a hurry. Of course I should have realized that it was a Yoko Ono show and we would be part of the art. I missed most of the retrospective of some of her films.
I did get to see Fly, an advertisement/commercial for Bottoms, and War is Over. The last film was from 2012 and had her dancing in a top hat and black suit doing all her Yoko moves that we would see later when she was on stage.
There were several people around me who seemed to know little about her. They didn’t know or understand her films. At the table in the VIP section nearest us, the reservation label said “Kyoko” and they had to look the name up. They were surprised to find out that she had a daughter and surmised that Yoko must have been married before John (in fact she was married twice before she met John). I don’t know how you could like her enough to buy a ticket but not know about her second husband kidnapping her daughter and the years Kyoko and Yoko were estranged.
The group talked loudly during the films. One of them then realized how short I was and he asked if I could see. I told him I could see between him and his friend. He checked in with me every so often during the show. One of the things making the place more crowded than usual was the videographers, photographers, and spotlight upstairs. People in the VIP section kept going in and out, which made us push against the guy with the spotlight. Spotlight guy was getting more and more annoyed and finally snapped at the guy in front of me and they exchanged some harsh words (someone working for Yoko calling another person asshole seemed very wrong). The guy in front of me took off and I had a better view. But I did feel badly about their exchange because it wasn’t his fault. The club was packed tightly.
When the band came out the first thing you realize is how much Sean still looks like his father. Especially now with the long hair. He’s broader than his father was but when he walked across the stage with that hair, beard, glasses, long legs, and boots it was Abbey Road/Let It Be all over again. Then you notice what a tiny little thing she is. She wore a grey fedora, sleeveless motorcycle jacket, long sleeved sweater, and jeans. She’s one of the few people who could wear that outfit and not make me wince.
The set was a mix of songs from her new album Take Me to the Land of Hell and old songs. She did “Walking on Thin Ice” in all its disco/dance glory and went bluesy and surf and pure rock as the song dictated. When they said goodbye at the end of the set, Yoko kept on talking and telling everyone how happy she was that we came out and Sean whispered in her ear (probably telling her that they’d be back out for the encore so she didn’t have to say her goodbyes yet). There were a couple of times when Sean was talking and Yoko cut him off – not in an artist/musical director way but in a mother/son way. It was quite adorable.
At one point she picked up her flashlight and started saying “I love you” while flashing the light at us. We all flashed back at her and said “I love you.” The story of the Onochord project is here.
“Higa Noburu” is sung in both Japanese and English – Yoko sang accompanied only by Sean on piano and it was plaintive and powerful. Earl Slick, who played on Double Fantasy joined the band for the last song of the first encore and the second encore. For the second encore Sean came out with hair tied up and introduced a song that was written for his sister. Yoko explained that when her daughter had been kidnapped, she wrote this song so that it would go out into the universe and it would find her daughter and bring her home to her. Unfortunately, as Yoko explained, that at 40 minutes the song wasn’t very popular, so not very many people heard it and it wasn’t passed on. “Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)” is as sad a mother’s lament as could be. (And they didn’t play the 40 minute version.)
This incarnation of the Plastic Ono Band included Sean Lennon (guitar, bass, piano), Yuka C. Honda of Cibo Matto (keyboard), Yuko Araki of MI-GU and Cornelius (drums), Nels Cline of Wilco (guitar), Michael Leonhart of Steely Dan and Donald Fagan (trumpet), and Jared Samuel of Invisible Familiars (keyboard). The only bass player I can find listed is a woman so I don’t know who was on bass Sunday night. Sean did introduce him and said that he had learned all the songs in just a couple of days.
On the subway platform for my trip home I noticed a familiar looking woman. She had been sitting at Kyoko’s table. Kyoko had had her back to us so I couldn’t see her face but then I realized that the woman also standing on the platform had to be Kyoko. We rode the train together for a while. It was crowded so I didn’t see when she got off the train. But it was still rather exciting.
Set list is courtesy of Brooklyn Vegan, where you can also find some great photos.
By Carene Lydia Lopez