Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band -- Concert Review

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It has taken about 40 odd years, but Yoko Ono has gone from being a much-derided controversial figure to a musical and cultural institution. That was the message conveyed during "We Are Plastic Ono Band," the self-generated tribute show that featured an impressive gallery of guest stars as well as the current incarnation of her and John's famed band. It was a thrilling if occasionally ragged evening that instantly assumed historical importance.

Featuring her son, Sean, as musical director, musician and charmingly self-deprecating host, the evening featured music spanning the decades, from the original Plastic Ono Band to Ono's solo work to songs from the terrific new album "Between My Head and the Sky."

The show's first half featured Yoko, her trademark yowl intact, leading the band through such numbers as the current "Waiting for the D Train" (with support by Mark Ronson) to such iconic songs as "Rising" and "Walking on Thin Ice." Wearing a black fedora and her signature shades and dancing sinuously throughout, Ono betrayed no signs of her advanced age (she is 77 today!). The band -- featuring Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto, the ensemble known as Cornelius and such players as Michael Leonhart (trumpet) and Erik Friedlander (cello) -- delivered a terrifically complex mixture of rock, funk and avant-jazz.

The big guns were saved for the second half. The Scissor Sisters delivered a typically rambunctious version of the new "The Sun Is Down," featuring a good approximation of Yoko's caterwauling. Gene Ween and Sean sang together on a charming version of John Lennon's "Oh Yoko." With Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore providing suitably bracing guitar scrapings, Yoko screeched her way through the avant-garde exercise "Mulberry." Bette Midler sang the retro-style "Yes, I'm Your Angel," giving the number the feel of a lost track from the 1930s. And Paul Simon and his son Harper sang low-key acoustic renditions of Yoko's "Silverhorse" and John Lennon's "Hold On."

But the big excitement came with the partial reunion of the original Plastic Ono Band, with Eric Clapton, bassist Klaus Voormann and drummer Jim Keltner joining Yoko onstage for the first time in decades. Performing rousing if ragged versions of the Beatles' "Yer Blues" and Yoko's "Death of Samantha" and "Don't Worry Kyoko," the players relished the opportunity to relive old times.

The evening ended appropriately with the all-star line-up leading the audience on the classic "Give Peace a Chance," featuring new lyrics written for the occasion. Still relevant decades after it was written, it was a sad reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Venue: BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, Brooklyn, N.Y. on Tuesday, Feb. 16
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