To celebrate the release of Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band’s new album Take Me to the Land of Hell (out this week), Ono’s ever-evolving band took to the stage at New York’s Bowery Ballroom last night to play through some new selections as well as indulging an enraptured crowd with some of the most personal and poignant songs from her vast catalog. The evening was filled with a balance of maximal and minimal expressions, a direction made aparent early on when she performed Take Me to the Land of Hell tracks “Cheshire Cat Cry” and “Moonbeams.”
Other highlights of Ono’s controlled chaos were performances of “Higa Noboru” and “Waiting for the D Train,” the latter coming off as an exhibition in musical prowess. The Plastic Ono Band plowed through the surf-straddling single, with Wilco’s Nels Cline and Sean Lennon trading off on solo shreds while Yoko wailed herself into oblivion. Her striking rendition of “Higa Noboru” — accompanied only by Lennon and the careful plodding of a solemn piano — served as a lesson in vulnerability, a scene so intense that fixating on Ono awash in light became a crucial need as she ruminated in a steady stream of English and Japanese.
After an hour-long set, Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band were joined by Earl Slick for the encore, who Lennon introduced as an old friend. “I first met this amazing guitar player when I was five!” he said before noting that Slick had joined he and Ono for the concert that paid tribute to Double Fantasy, the final release from his parents. Slick, Cline and Lennon did justice by the the effusive licks of “Don’t Worry, Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow),” which were helmed by John Lennon and Eric Clapton back when the song was recorded in 1969 for Ono’s Fly.
The closer was a fitting tribute and an ideal showcase for the talents that make up the exceptional Plastic Ono Band, which in this most recent incarnation include Yuka Honda (Cibo Matto), Yuko Araki (mi-gu) and Jared Samuel (Invisible Familiars). In the space between the heartbroken soliloquys and eccentric dance anthems, Ono doesn’t necessarily need to get by with a little help from her friends, but her ability to thrive and subsist on collaboration has done right by her and Yoko Ono Plastic Band as they continue to redefine the avant-garde in their own exploratory terms.