We Are Plastic Ono Band


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Amid All That Experience, Innocence

In some ways Yoko Ono is still an amateur. At We Are Plastic Ono Band, mixing concert and tribute at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Tuesday night, her voice could be shaky and her stage patter giggly and unplanned. She looked genuinely surprised when the audience interrupted her and sang Happy Birthday. (She turns 77 on Feb. 18.) Shes also untamed. She can still let loose the bleats, wails, yips, howls and shrieks that alienated Beatles fans in the 1960s and inspired avant-rockers soon afterward.

We Are Plastic Ono Band featured, Sean Ono Lennon, Eric Clapton and Yoko Ono, along with other guests on Tuesday evening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Ms. Ono's well-preserved air of navete and the license it gives her to say things simply and primally has been her artistic gift since the 60s, first as a conceptual artist and then, with John Lennon's impetus, as a rocker and songwriter. She reveals things with purposeful guilelessness: physically in her 60s performance art and films, and emotionally in songs like It Happened, which she sang unaccompanied to start the concert: I know theres no return. Now her main collaborator is her son, Sean Ono Lennon, who organized the show and led the band.

We Are Plastic Ono Band brought together, for the first time in decades, members of the informal group John Lennon assembled in 1969: Eric Clapton on guitar, Jim Keltner on drums and Klaus Voorman on bass. Guests, including Paul Simon, Bette Midler and members of Sonic Youth, also performed songs by Ms. Ono and by John Lennon.

But Ms. Ono was never overshadowed. For the first half of the concert she performed songs from her 2009 album, Between My Head and the Sky (Chimera) and some older ones, like Walking on Thin Ice. The band vamped through hard rock, funk and psychedelic drone, closely following her voice. Singing melodies, Ms. Ono sounded high and fragile, as deliberately exposed as the lyrics. And her wordless sounds were by no means random. They were ghostly, furious, dreamy, caustic, urgent, exultant, orgasmic. Between the abstractions were tidings of peace-and-love optimism, of loss and loneliness, and of uncertainty. She ended her set with Higa Noboru, a ballad set to impressionistic piano chords: I hear the fish calling from the ocean/I hear the birds warning from the sky, she recited.

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