Plastic Ono Band w/ Lady Gaga | L.A. | Review

Words & Images by: L. Paul Mann

Plastic Ono Band :: 10.02.10 :: Orpheum Theatre :: Los Angeles, CA

Yoko Ono & Lady Gaga by L. Paul Mann
The Plastic Ono Band, formed in 1971 by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, was one of the first rock super-groups, claiming a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame revolving lineup that included Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, Alan White (Yes), keyboardists Billy Preston and Nicky Hopkins and more. In 2009, Yoko revived the group and released Between My Head and the Sky to overwhelming positive reviews. When recently interviewed about the origin of the band's name, Yoko recounted, "As I was asked to do a show in Berlin before John and I got together, I wanted to use four plastic stands with tape recorders in each one of them as my band. I told that story to John and he immediately coined the phrase Plastic Ono Band " (as quoted from her Twitter page).

The new version of the band features Yoko, her son Sean Lennon, Cornelius and Yuka Honda (Cibo Matto) as the core, with a multitude of guest performers joining in. On October 1st and 2nd, the Plastic Ono Band played a rare pair of sold out performances at Los Angeles gem the Orpheum Theatre. The ornate, old opera house was the perfect backdrop for the 77-year-old performance art veteran to create her pop art vision, honoring her late husband's 70th birthday. The entire fashion district that surrounds the Orpheum is Orwellian portion of old downtown Los Angeles. Facades of scores of ornate old theaters lay abandoned or repurposed as cheap tourist trinket storefronts. Towering above this scene are some of the most beautiful architectural wonders in the entire United States. Tall skyscrapers like the old Eastern Building are artistic marvels adorned with bronze and gilded ornaments and intricate stone carvings. Some have been converted to condos for adventurous young souls wanting to live in the bowels of the city, while others lay boarded up and abandoned like an eerie science fiction movie. Homeless locals with their shopping carts piled high walk shoulder to shoulder with Fashion District business patrons in Armani suits.

Plastic Ono Band '10 by L. Paul Mann
Inside the Orpheum, a curious audience gathered early to crowd the venue's numerous bars. As the lights went down, a short biographical film began, though many lackadaisical patrons seemed more interested in pursuing a conversation and drink in the lobby. But for some in the audience, the film was just the first of many emotional moments throughout an evening performance that brought many to the verge of tears. As the film ended, Yoko appeared from behind the curtains dressed in black with a big, red military style hat. She sang a song with her trademark guttural wail, but a surprisingly strong and pleasant singing voice emerged between the solemn wails. Then an explosion of sound awakened the sleepy crowd and the curtains parted to reveal the new Plastic Ono Band. Led by Sean, who switched off between bass and lead guitar, the group broke immediately into a post-punk wall of rock. The hard driving band went on to swerve into diverse territory like experimental jazz and electronica, but for the most part laid down a hard driving beat any rock singer would be happy to have backing them. A surprisingly limber Yoko pranced about the stage and belted out impressive harmonies. In fact, her hour-long opening set was probably the most mainstream and least avant-garde part of the evening's repertoire.

After a short break an even more inebriated and obnoxious audience began to trickle back to their seats. Cat calling from the crowd began almost immediately as the first act in the guest portion of the show began. Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt began with a strange Broadway-musical-like adaptation of "Yes, I'm Your Angel" from the 1980 Lennon-Ono album Double Fantasy. The song came complete with campy dancing and a pair of showgirl angels. Next came what may have been the most musically interesting moment of the night, The neo-pop folk sensation Merril Garbus, better known as Tune-Yards, reworked Lennon's masterpiece "We're All Water." The Oakland-based singer creates her own unique sound, which sometimes emulates Yoko's early works. Throughout the rest of the evening Yoko would wander in and out of each set, introducing her friends and adding vocals into the mix here and there. Her good friend actress Carrie Fisher was the next performer, sounding and looking like a blues diva. As the feisty crowd continued to cat call, one patron from the balcony yelled, "Princess Leilah". "It's Leia," a surly Fisher quipped before launching into a blues drenched rendition of Yoko's poignant "What a Bastard The World Is."

Then the evening, in typical Yoko fashion, turned truly experimental. First, she told a story of how she came to write the song "Mulberry." As a child, just after World War II in Japan, her family was starving and she would go out and pick mulberries so they would have something to eat. Her song is about the beautiful landscape contrasting with her fear of hunger. The explanation somehow seemed to reinforce her lifelong plea in "The War Is Over." Flanked by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, she launched into the song and soon began moaning in her characteristic anguished way. Moore and Gordon launched into an ear-piercing explosion of feedback from their stringed instruments. The crescendo of abstract noise seemed to be a bit much for many in the stodgy crowd and people fidgeted in their seats. The audience finally began to respond and participate for the next act. As the curtains closed, Sean and New York friend Harper Simon (son of Paul Simon) emerged out front to play an upbeat acoustic version of "Oh Yoko!" that finally got the audience to sing.

Plastic Ono Band '10 by L. Paul Mann
The next act was truly a performance art piece, as the curtains opened to reveal Yoko and rapper RZA playing chess. The game went on amidst several minutes of awkward silence, while bewildered fans continued to heckle. Then Yoko rose from the table and began singing "See The Joy." The Wu-Tang Clan leader added an intense rap over the frantic rock rhythm laid down by the Plastic Ono Band. As the song grew ever more tumultuous, Yoko again devolved into her trademark moan. Then after a short pause, another strange and awkward moment occurred as actor Vincent Gallo, wearing white lace fringed pants, emerged and knelt down on the stage. Someone shouted, "Fuck you, Vincent Gallo," while another retorted, "We love you, Vincent Gallo." He twisted a few knobs on a synthesizer and began to sing into a microphone, all whilst staring down at the floor. He did a quick rendition of "I'm Going Away Smiling" and quickly left the stage without acknowledging the audience.

The energy level then took a 360-degree turn as the band came back out fronted by Mercurial lead singer Perry Farrell. As he turned knobs on a customized PA system, he began to sing in his trademark high-pitched voice. In the back row, legendary American punk bass player Mike Watt joined in on a ferocious rendition of "Waiting for The D Train." Watt, barely able to walk with a knee brace over an obvious leg injury, somehow managed to flail and swing his bass like a fanatical teenager at Warped Tour. Yoko emerged to do a duet wail with Farrell as the band pummeled us with one of the most ferocious backbeats of the night.

Yoko Ono & Lady Gaga by L. Paul Mann
Finally, after a short pause, the crowd began to rise to their feet in anticipation of the biggest special guest of the evening. One woman, looking and sounding a bit like a bulldog, was jealously guarding the area around her seat as a hoard of fans rushed forward armed with cell phone cameras. In an exercise of moronic futility, security guards tried in vane to enforce a no photo policy but that genie left the bottle several years ago. Then the curtains parted and a larger than life Lady Gaga stood in the center of the stage in 8-inch high heels and a silver body suit that was virtually see-through in the back end. Arguably the most successful pop star in the world currently, Gaga brought an instant credibility to the evenings festivities and was the sole reason many in the audience were there. She began with a bluesy duet with Yoko on "The Sun Is Down." Then she moved to piano to perform an even bluesier "It's Been Very Hard." In an impromptu moment, Yoko climbed up on the piano and began to sing in a catlike pose. Then Gaga began playing the keyboard with her huge heels, and finally climbed on the top of the piano with Yoko and rolled around in an ecstatic duet. Cell phone cameras exploded to life to capture the historic moment.

Finally, all of the evening's performers emerged for a sing-along of "Give Peace A Chance," with key members rewriting an extra verse. Gaga used her line to promote the rights of gays in the military, while RZA used his, to her dismay, to extol the virtues of her exposed derriere. The night finished with Lady Gaga praising Yoko's legacy as a true avant-garde artist and leading feminist of her time. On her Twitter page, Gaga commented, "WE ARE PLASTIC ONO. I got to sit in as a guest musician tonight, what a legendary band +mother Yoko."

For her part, Yoko wrote on her site: "The night was hot! The whole audience gave a standing ovation to Lady Gaga from the minute she appeared onstage to when her turn was over. You can say that two of us come from one clay." Indeed, the nearly three-hour concert highlighted more than four decades of conceptual art encompassing music, film and performance art. Sadly, few in the audience seemed to realize the historical significance of the show they were fortunate enough to witness.

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[Published on: 10/12/10]

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