Review: Yoko Ono at the Orpheum Theater

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This past Thursday was one of the busiest nights for concert-going that Los Angeles has ever seen.  I elected to see John Cale at UCLA’s Royce Hall (which was terrific), but other equally-awesome options included Spoon at the Hollywood Palladium, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion at the Troubadour and Pavement with Sonic Youth at the Hollywood Bowl, to name just some of the highlights.

And things kept rolling this weekend, as Rocktober began in earnest with a two-night engagement of legendary art-rocker Yoko Ono and her latest incarnation of Plastic Ono Band, led by her son, Sean Lennon.

As polarizing a figure as she may be, there is no denying that her influence on modern pop music looms large, from the feminist rock of The Gossip and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, to the envelope-pushing sounds of Sonic Youth and Tune-Yards, to the high-concept grooves of LCD Soundsystem and Lady Gaga.

For these two LA dates, she invited a slew of special guests, from various genres (intense rapper RZA, alt-rock crooner Perry Farrell, electronic wizard Cornelius) and even other disciplines (space princess Carrie Fisher, inner space traveler Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the just plain spacey Vincent Gallo).

The first half of the show featured Ono energetically performing in her own inimitable fashion, ably backed by Sean’s hand-picked house band, followed by a second set showcasing the guest performers.  For most, it was these unique interpretations that sealed the deal: Friday’s show culminated with Iggy Pop’s unbridled enthusiasm, while Saturday featured a highly-anticipated appearance from Lady Gaga herself.

I enjoyed Friday night’s show enough to come back the following night, admittedly with a particular curiosity to see how the Gaga fans would react to Ono’s more challenging approach to music-making.

While noticeably rowdier than the previous night, Saturday’s crowd got into the spirit of things, and Gaga revealed herself up for the challenge and genuinely appreciative to share the stage with such a noted inspiration and “mother” figure.

For both shows, the finale involved a sing-a-long of “Give Peace a Chance” by performers and audience members alike, and the goodtime vibe was appropriate and infectious.  All in all, it was a unique evening of music celebrating an artist who has always strived for something different.


Editor’s Note: Check out KCRW DJ Garth Trinidad’s interview with Yoko Ono here