Due to a malfunctioning microphone, Yoko Ono stood momentarily mute Tuesday night at New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music, mouthing inaudible cackles while her son, Sean Lennon, sloshed with Eric Clapton through a mean and muddy version of the Beatles’ ‘Yer Blues.’
Without hesitation, a stagehand rushed from the wings and handed Ono a working microphone, allowing her feral shrieks to compete with Slowhand’s expert riffing.
On any other night, that stagehand might have risked boos and lobbed bottles. Not on Tuesday, however, as an incongruous bunch of musicians joined forces for ‘We Are Plastic Ono Band,’ a loving tribute to Ono and her various artistic achievements.
The performance featured everyone from Sonic Youth principals Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore — whose dual-guitar take on ‘Mulberry’ evoked the World War II air-raid drill Ono said inspired the song — to Bette Midler, who vamped it up on a flirty, jazzy ‘Yes, I’m Your Angel.’
Paul Simon and son Harper sang a pair of duets, including a tender ‘Hold On,’ from 1970’s ‘John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ album, while alt-rock mainstay Gene Ween joined Sean Lennon — the evening’s musical director — for a spot-on ‘Oh Yoko,’ another highlight from John’s solo catalog.
The drag-queen torch singer and performance artist Justin Bond got hammy on ‘What a Bastard the World Is,’ switching back and forth between his male and female voice, acting out a scoundrel’s attempts to win back his woman. Scissor Sisters singers Jake Shears and Ana Matronic, meanwhile, presided over a funky ‘The Sun Is Down,’ sashaying like Wham in the ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ video.
The show was split into two acts, the first of which centered more on Ono, who turns 77 tomorrow, than special guests. The artist — “singer” isn’t quite the word — offered up plenty of her patented oscillating high-pitched mating-call vocals, transforming the placid likes of ‘Rising’ into nightmarish lullabies.
As a short film that prefaced the concert emphasized, such fearlessness has long defined Ono’s art. Whether painting or protesting, cutting disco-funk records or making movies of mosquitoes walking across her naked body, she’s always pushed audiences to put aside comfort and view the world from novel angles.
While some critics — particularly those operating under the misconception she broke up the Beatles — are dubious of Ono’s talent, the musicians on hand for ‘We Are Plastic Ono Band’ have long since swilled the Kool-Aid.
The entire cast took the stage for an encore rendition of ‘Give Peace a Chance,’ a slapdash version whose new Ono-penned lyrics were inspired by the morning’s newspaper headlines. The number had barely been rehearsed — at a run-through the night before, the ensemble played in a different key — and Ono must have known there was a chance the whole thing would fall apart.
Naturally, she did it anyway.