by Kimberly Chun, San Fancisco Bay Guardian Online
Noise Pop — the quality sounds and sonic surprises always amaze, no matter how few or many shows you catch.
I didn’t get to gawk at as much as I’d like, considering I was suffering from a bad case of the sniffles. Still, Yoko Ono, live with the Plastic Ono Band on Feb. 23 at Fox Theater, was nothing to sniff at.
Deerhoof opened with a softer, more subdued set than usual. The Bay Area faves seemed a mite overwhelmed by the big room and opulent surroundings: drummer-founder Greg Saunier said as much as he pondered how “pretty” the venue is. Nevertheless the combo quickly gained steam and confidence, as Satomi Matsuzaki twirled, danced, and gestured on the side of the stage and the entire group switched instruments and uncharacteristically tackled a few covers (the Ramones’ “Pinhead” and Canned Heat’s “Going Up the Country,” the latter dovetailing perfectly with Saunier’s ethereal falsetto). I like my Deerhoof louder, in a more intimate venue, but the band was the perfect choice to prep the audience for Ono.
The lady herself contextualized her place in pop and conceptual art: a video montage unfurled a lengthy, select overview of her career. When she finally arrived onstage, yes, she screeched, yowled, chattered, and generated more noise than melody. Those vocables are some of her major contributions to the rock canon — and her ooh’s, aaach’s, and howls sounded just as challenging today, if more familiar to ears trained to the ‘00s underground.
There were quiet elegiac moments, in the form of, for instance, the beautiful new “Higa Noboru,” as Ono slipped easily into chanteuse mode and son Sean Lennon accompanying her on piano. The ace Plastic Ono Band tackled a good share of Ono’s latest album, **Between My Head and the Sky** — tracks like “Healing, “Waiting for the D Train,” and “The Sun Is Down” — throwing in a fabulously playful cartoon video and a turn by virtual reality pioneer, writer, and composer Jaron Lanier on Laotian flute, sitar, and shakuhachi.
Lennon said he met Lanier as a 10-year-old and marveled then at how many instruments Lanier knew how to play. “Jaron said the key to learning so many instruments is to believe time doesn’t exist,” quipped Lennon.
And Plastic Ono Band’s rendition of “Death of Samantha” and “Mind Train” made time stand still in the best way possible. The former, a bittersweet rocker that ended with Ono standing stock-still at center stage, was played for the second time live (the first was at the Plastic Ono Band performance in NYC earlier in February), and the latter was likely the highlight of the evening, mesmerizing with its free-floating, unfurling **Bitches Brew**-style funk.
The finale or second encore began with an Onochord flash-along: tiny disposable flashlights marked with the date and venue were left on at our seats at the start of the show, ready to flicker “I love you” in code toward the stage. But the “Give Peace a Chance” sing-along with Petra Haden and Deerhoof soon eclipsed even that. Sloppy, ragged, moving — it was the icing on the cake. We piled onto the BART, storm or no storm, feeling struck by lightning and energized by what we had just witnessed.
Noise Pop Show Review: Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band
with Deerhoof at The Fox Oakland, 2/23/10
by Dakin Hardwick, Spinning Platters
I have spent a lot of time defending different artists in my day. Usually this is because, well, my tastes are difficult to define, to say the least. (Case in point: two of my early reviews, which happened one right after the other were this and this) But, the one single artist that I come to the defense of more than any other is Yoko Ono. Everyone has an opinion about her, and generally speaking, this opinion is pretty negative. The primary cause of this is most likely either a.) they blame her for the break up of The Beatles (I still think that this was Linda’s fault) or b.) they blame her for the widespread acceptance of the avant garde. I personally don’t hold her responsible for either of these things. I also think people either don’t take her seriously enough, or take her far too seriously.
I must give a respectful shout-out to the good people of Noise Pop for making this show happen. They took a chance at booking such a divisive figure for their opening night show, and it paid off pretty nicely.
San Francisco’s own Deerhoof opened the show, an act with a very similar reputation as that of Ms Ono. They are often considered part of the “noise” movement, but the set they played tonight was hardly that. Instead, they were going for the poppy, primarily focusing on tracks off of their more recent records Friend Opportunity and Offend Maggie, two albums of aggressive dance punk, with vocals hinting at a slight Bjork influence. The audience, which was nearly full for this opening set, a rarity for shows where every seat in the house is reserved, was rapt with attention. Multiple people were just sitting with wide grins, while other were rocking out in their seats. The mid-set cover of The Ramones’ classic “Pinhead” was greeted with the same level of excitement as the majority of the set, possibly due to a lack of folks recognizing the song. The only moment in the set that brought people out of their seat though, was an unexpected cover of the Canned Heat classic “Going Up the Country.”
After a short set change, they played a video chronicling the history of Yoko Ono, from her birth and her early days as a performance artist, and taking her through her relationship with John Lennon, and bring you up to modern time. The video was beautiful, and it was great to see some legendary performance art pieces, such as Cut Piece, in a room full of adoring fans.
The band walked in and did a brief rendition of the meditative piece, “It Happened,” from 1974’s A Story, before diving in to “Waiting For The ‘D’ Train,” the hard-driving opener to Ono’s brilliant recent release, Between My Head and Your Sky. This, of course, got the crowd whipped in to a frenzy. After this heavier opener, moved in to a set of “pop” songs that head a good groove, and almost lent itself towards a disco sound.
The current incarnation of Plastic Ono Band is a very tight and versatile machine. Although he remained quiet throughout most of the earlier part of the show, Sean Lennon (son of John Lennon & Yoko Ono) took the role of de facto band leader. He alternated between bass and guitar throughout most of the set, only to jump on to the piano a handful of times. The rest of the band included Japanese electronic music composer Cornelius on guitar and Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda on keyboards, as well as Hirotaka “Shimmy” Shimizu taking some guitar duties and Yuko “migu” Araki on drums. This troupe of musicians easily slid from noisy rave ups to electronic dance music to mediative ragas to classic blues rock jams without missing a beat.
After an enthusiastic reading of the classic Plastic Ono Band song “Walking On Thin Ice,” the band left the stage, and Harper Simon (son of Paul Simon) joined Lennon and Ono for an acoustic reading of the song “Will I,” which gave the song a certain Beatles-esque quality that the song lacked on the original album version, found on 1995’s Rising, her first record with her son. Lennon’s voice is beautiful, and though he sounds very little like his father, he seems to have his gift for melody. About halfway through the song, they brought out Lennon’s childhood friend, a large, dread-locked man named Jaron, to play recorder. He stayed on stage, playing the sitar, as well as the Laotian pan flute, and according to Lennon was capable of playing at least “1800 more instruments.”
Lennon took over on lead vocals for the song “Sun Is Down,” while Ono danced about the stage and occasionally laid on her back to kick her feet in the air. For recently turning 77, she was very energetic, making sure to run around the stage and dance very frequently. Next up was the rarely played “Death Of Samantha,” a very classic Plastic Ono Band song with a wicked guitar riff originally played by John Lennon that Sean first emulated, before turning it into his own piece of work.
The band proceeded to jam out on the classic “Mindtrain” before closing the main set with Lennon on piano and Ono on vocals to do the Japanese song “Higa Noboru,” asking the crowd to “sing along, because you all should know the words.”
The encore consisted of a performance of the song “Mulberry,” which was performed while Ono’s classic film Fly was shown behind the band. They then brought out Deerhoof to sit in with the band for a performance of “Don’t Worry Kyoko,” one of the most famous Plastic Ono songs.
At this point, it was well after the venues advertised ending time on 10:45, and the band walked off stage, but the audience kept demanding more. So, despite the show running slightly longer than expected, they still pulled out the big show stopper, a group sing along of “Give Peace A Chance,” the very first song ever recorded by the Plastic Ono Band. Petra Haden and Harper Simon sang one verse, while Deerhoof sang another, then Ono and Lennon sang the final verse. It was a beautiful and cathartic ending to an amazing night of music. For the few of you who weren’t in attendance, if she comes around again, make it a point to attend the show.
Last Night: Yoko Ono Plastic Band at The Fox Theater
by Emily Savage, SFWeekly.com
Photos by Christopher Victorio
Yoko Ono Plastic Band: The Fox Theater, Tuesday, Feb. 23 2010
Better than: Playing The Beatles: Rock Band
When I told friends and Facebook contacts that I’d be seeing Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band during Noise Pop, the reactions were split down the middle. Half the responses were incredulous. You’d pay money to see her? The other half was excited, and dare I say it – a little jealous? But this is to be expected with Ono, whose artistic efforts have always had a galvanizing affect.
On the anti side we have those who believe Ono was a band-ruining usurper, an untalented hanger-on who slithered her way into John Lennon’s loins and broke up the world’s favorite rock band.
And then there are those of us on Team Ono, who see her work as groundbreaking and appreciate her uniquely oddball composing talents, her avant-garde musical style, her forward-thinking feminist songs, experimental films, and performance art.
Whatever your opinion is, you’ve got to admit–the spry 77-year-old has charisma.
Local favorites Deerhoof, who opened Ono’s show at the Fox Theater last night, know a thing or two about charisma as well. Bounding on stage in a poppy blue tent dress, Satomi Matsuzaki loudly called out, “Pan-da, pan-da, pan-da, pan-da,” the first strains of the song off Apple O.
Deerhoof followed with tracks off Milk Man and its latest, Offend Maggie. The band also covered both the Ramones’ “Gabba Gabba Hey” and Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.”
Though Matsuzaki and crew were working it overtime — jumping and thrashing to each disparate chord — the Fox Theater seemed too big for their typically intimate set-up. The expert guitar riffs were drowned out by vocals and excess stage space. Barring venue size issues, though, it was clear why Deerhoof was chosen to open for Ono. The group’s spontaneous and edgy style mirrors the headliner’s.
As last night was Ono’s first Bay Area show in over 14 years, there were some pretty high expectations mumbling about in the crowd. The anticipation was palpable.
After an intermission of chirping bird sounds, the lights went dark and the audience was treated to a film retrospective of Ono’s life and work. There was Ono singing with John, having her clothes cut by strangers in “Cut Piece,” and with a young Sean Lennon accepting a Grammy for Double Fantasy.
The screen pulled up and a diminutive Ono was smiling on stage, wearing a black tracksuit and white beret. Standing beside her was Sean, holding a guitar, along with Japanese superhero Cornelius, and Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto fame.
After Ono’s opening standing ovation, the Plastic Ono Band played a series of songs off its new album Between My Head and the Sky, beginning with the fast-paced “Waiting For The D Train.”
Then Ono’s signature guttural yelps, climax-style ahhs, and warbled cackles began and stretched through most of the two-hour set. She shoulder-danced to hectic new wave hit “Walking on Thin Ice,” sat sweetly humming between Lennon and guest acoustic guitarist Harper Simon for “Will I,” and yelled along with a R. Crumb-esque animated video for “The Sun is Down.”
The banter and smiles shared between mother and son during sentimental pieces was downright adorable and Yoko seemed to genuinely enjoy herself on the Fox’s expansive stage.
The show ended where only a performance of this nature could — with a giant group sing-along to “Give Peace a Chance.” The Plastic Ono Band, Deerhoof, Petra Haden, and friends took turns singing words straight from yesterday’s newspaper headlines followed by the audience chiming in for the chorus. “All we are saying,” we screamed, “is giiive peace a chance.”
Personal bias: I used to think of Ono only with regard to the Beatles/John Lennon, failing to recognize her talent for way too long. The guilt haunts me.
Random detail: The crowd was given tiny flashlights and encouraged to shine the lights towards the stage while Ono stared back and repeated the words “I love you.”
By the way: Sean Lennon and Cornelius will play a much smaller show tonight at the Independent with Lennon’s band The Ghost of a Saber Toothed Tiger.
Review: Yoko Ono at Noise Pop
by Jim Harrington, A&E Interactive
“Oh, no, Ono!”
That’s the reaction that many music fans have whenever the much maligned and vastly misunderstood Yoko Ono is mentioned. The rock icon’s name carries so much baggage, mostly in regard to her marriage to John Lennon and her presumed role in the breakup of the Beatles, and it’s grown synonymous with artsy (many would say unlistenable) avant-garde music.
All of that has made Ono, who turned 77 last week, the most famous outsider in rock ‘n’ roll history. It’s also why she was the perfect choice to open the 2010 Noise Pop festival on Tuesday night at the Fox Theater in Oakland. This homegrown fest, now in its 18th year, is all about celebrating music that resides far left of the mainstream.
And it doesn’t get any less mainstream than Yoko Ono.
The festival, which continues through Monday at venues in San Francisco and Oakland, really struck the jackpot when it landed Ono for its opening night concert. For starters, it had been nearly 14 years since the vocalist performed her last Bay Area show – an early 1996 date at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. Combine that with the fact that the star’s most recent CD, last year’s “Between My Head and the Sky,” has generated some of the best reviews of Ono’s 40-plus-year recording career and you have the making of a true event.
Yet, the real kicker was that this show was billed as a performance by the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, a band name last used on 1973’s “Feeling the Space” and one that the vocalist decided to retire after her husband’s murder in 1980. This version of the Plastic Band featured Ono’s son Sean Lennon (who performed on multiple instruments) as well as former Cibo Matto keyboardist Yuka Honda and members of the experimental alt-rock ensemble Cornelius.
Collectively, the group would deliver more “Noise” than “Pop” during its nearly two-hour set – but it sure was a delightful noise. It’s been a long time since local rock fans have seen anything as daring and adventurous as what the Plastic Ono Band delivered on Tuesday.
The capacity crowd, a mix of veteran Yoko heads, Beatles nuts old enough to probably remember the Fab Four playing Candlestick Park and curious young hipsters, was mostly very appreciative of the performance. There was one report of a fan demanding her money back, complaining that Ono “can’t sing and she can’t dance.” That person, one can assume, didn’t know what she was getting into when she bought her ticket.
Neither did the rest of us, for that matter, and that’s why we came.
What we didn’t end up getting was a load of guest stars, like the troupe of A-list celebrities (Eric Clapton, Paul Simon and Bette Midler, among others) that showed up to perform at Ono’s concert last week in New York. As it turned out, however, no added star power was necessary to make this gig memorable.
Following an enjoyable opening set by indie-rockers Deerhoof, the headlining set began with a 15-minute movie, a collage of pictures and video clips that served as a refresher course on Ono’s history. Ono then took the stage and began to sing, in a sweetly fragile voice, an unaccompanied version of “It Happened.” Moments later, the band kicked in, the “singing” stopped and the screeching began.
That’s the acid test for a would-be Yoko fan. The wordless sounds she makes, which range from wails to moans, are the No. 1 reason why so many can’t stand the artist. Others, including this critic, hear those noises and believe they add more to the emotional wallop of the music than any possible alternative that could be written down in full sentences.
It’s easier to enjoy Ono’s music if you stop thinking about her voice in usual performance terms and consider it instead as an instrument. If you can make that leap, which wouldn’t be hard for someone familiar with jazz “scatting,” it becomes possible to relate her voice to a trumpet or another type of horn. And, man, can that cat blow.
As the band continued on through new tracks like “The Sun is Down!” and older cuts such as “Walking on Thin Ice,” the music grew more urgent and intense. It didn’t feel like we were hearing a collection of individual songs as much as we were watching pieces of a puzzle come together. Through the musical chaos, somehow, meaning was found.
One person’s noise is another’s masterpiece. Which term best describes the music of Yoko Ono is up for the listener to decide. Either way, the judgment is sure to be made passionately, which is probably all this rock icon would want.
In one of only three major USA performances scheduled for 2010:
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YOKO ONO PLASTIC ONO BAND are YOKO ONO, Sean Lennon, Yuka Honda and Cornelius: Keigo “Cornelius” Oyamada, Hirotaka “Shimmy” Shimizu, Yuko “mi-gu” Araki & Shahzad Ismaily.
The historic Fox Oakland Theatre is a 3,800-seat movie theater, located at 1807 Telegraph Avenue in downtown Oakland, California. The theater was designed by Weeks and Day, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and reopened on February 5, 2009
YOKO ONO PLASTIC ONO BAND
BETWEEN MY HEAD AND THE SKY
★★★★★ “Excellent, essential” UNCUT
★★★★★ “Fantastically cool, fearlessly weird” DAILY TELEGRAPH
★★★★ “Brilliant, absorbing, thoughtful” THE INDEPENDENT
★★★★ “Challenging, tender” OBSERVER MUSIC MONTHLY
★★★★ “The best work of her musical career” NME
★★★★ “Brawny, brainy avante-rock” THE ONION (AV CLUB)
★★★★ “Beautifully desolate, bittersweet” PITCHFORK
★★★★ “Truly vital: unsettling, touching, funny, undeniable” ROLLING STONE
★★★★ “Hell, yeah! Will coax your heart wide open” SPIN
★★★★ “Artworks-as-song with vigour” Q MAGAZINE
★★★★ “Crackling with excitement” MOJO
★★★★ “Audacious, deeply focussed, wonderfully colorful and deeply expressive” ALL MUSIC GUIDE
★★★★ “Expressively melodic voice” DUSTED MAGAZINE