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Old Feb 19, 2010, 05:07 AM   #1
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Default Yoko Ono headlines Noise Pop

Interesting particular the bit about the Plastic Ono Band name and the re-introduction of that.

Yoko Ono headlines Noise Pop

The annual Noise Pop festival traditionally showcases artists that aren't all that well known to the general public. But this year, the festival makes an exception for the act booked to play the opening night concert.

Noise Pop now in its 18th year kicks off with none other than Yoko Ono, the controversial pop-music icon that came to international fame in the 1960s through her relationship with the Beatles' John Lennon. The avant-garde star, who celebrates her 77th birthday today, performs Tuesday at the Fox Theater in Oakland.

Ono is the biggest booking for the 2010 Noise Pop, which runs Tuesday through March 1 and will feature such acclaimed acts as Magnetic Fields, the Mumlers and the Dodos.

It's the singer's first local performance since a March 1996 date at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall, and Ono says she's thrilled at the thought of finally returning to play the Bay Area.

"Isn't that great?" she exclaims during a recent phone interview from her home in New York City. "I'm going to go back to San Francisco."

What makes this date really intriguing is that it's being billed as a performance by the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, a group name last used on 1973's "Feeling the Space" and one that she decided to abandon after husband John Lennon's murder in 1980. That original decision to retire the name made sense to most music fans, given Lennon's heavy involvement in all things Plastic Ono.

"It does make you think of John, right?" Ono says.

Ono credits the resurrection of the name to her son, Sean Lennon, who produced her most recent album, 2009's "Between My Head and the Sky," and wanted to attribute the work to the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band.

"Sean asked me if we could do it, and I said that's fine," Ono says. "But before I said that's fine, I thought, 'Why? Why? Why do we have to do that?' I had dropped that name because John passed away. I just blocked it."

What made the request to bring back the name valid, Ono reasoned, is that it came from Sean. That doesn't mean that the decision has sat well with some of the more overly protective Lennon fans.

"I think Sean got some flak from some people about it, like, 'How dare you use that name?' or something," Ono says. "But, I mean, it's his dad come on. And (the name) was given to his mom, so what about it?"

This version of the Plastic Ono Band features son Sean (who performed on multiple instruments on "Between My Head and the Sky") as well as former Cibo Matto keyboardist Yuka Honda and members of the experimental alt-rock ensemble Cornelius. Ono says she was introduced to Cornelius a band named after its influential frontman during a trip overseas.

"Sean wanted me to come to Japan and play a concert with him," she recalls. "He said my friends are going to be the band. And I thought, 'His friends? Oh, my God. Well, OK.' "

That backup band turned out to be Cornelius. And that gig would turn out to be an audition of sort one the players obviously passed with flying colors.

"I was so surprised they are fantastic musicians," Ono says. "So, when I was going to do the new album, I said to Sean, 'Why don't you bring those friends to New York?' "

With Sean in the role of producer, "Between My Head and the Sky" would become a wonderfully wild and often brilliant showcase for all of Ono's musical sides. The 16-track blend of acid-rock, avant-garde punk, experimental folk and dance flavors has generated some of the best reviews of Ono's career, including numerous four and five star critiques.

Much of the success must be credited to Sean who, Ono says, handled the recording sessions and, in particular, the star of the show with velvet gloves. "He could be a politician one day, to tell you the truth," she says. "He was very tactful. He was very kind of protective and also, surprisingly, he knew all my songs not just in a fan way; he knew all the intros and chords and things like that."

The overwhelmingly positive reception to "Between My Head and the Sky" is the latest sign that Ono once vilified as the woman "who broke up the Beatles" is now being embraced to a greater extent by the general public. For proof, consider that her ongoing remix project, featuring numerous big-name DJs, has produced several No. 1 dance hits in recent years.

The next step is to prove her merit on the live stage. She's all prepped for her Noise Pop gig, and she's even considering making a guest appearance at the festival date by Sean's band, the Ghost of a Saber Toothed Tiger, scheduled for Wednesday at San Francisco's Independent.

"I don't know if I like or if I don't like (performing)," she says. "It seems like I love it on one hand. And it seems like I'm totally scared on the other hand. It's always like that. I don't know what to do about it."

Ono does feel, however, that it's important for her to brave the performance jitters and play the occasional concert date.

"If I'm not performing, and I was staying at home, sitting in the kitchen for a year," she remarks, "I'd go crazy."
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Old Feb 24, 2010, 11:22 AM   #2
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Review: Yoko Ono at Noise Pop

“Oh, no, Ono!”

That’s the reaction that many music fans have whenever the much maligned and vastly misunderstood Yoko Ono is mentioned. The rock icon’s name carries so much baggage, mostly in regard to her marriage to John Lennon and her presumed role in the breakup of the Beatles, and it’s grown synonymous with artsy (many would say unlistenable) avant-garde music.

All of that has made Ono, who turned 77 last week, the most famous outsider in rock ‘n’ roll history. It’s also why she was the perfect choice to open the 2010 Noise Pop festival on Tuesday night at the Fox Theater in Oakland. This homegrown fest, now in its 18th year, is all about celebrating music that resides far left of the mainstream.

And it doesn’t get any less mainstream than Yoko Ono.

The festival, which continues through Monday at venues in San Francisco and Oakland, really struck the jackpot when it landed Ono for its opening night concert. For starters, it had been nearly 14 years since the vocalist performed her last Bay Area show – an early 1996 date at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. Combine that with the fact that the star’s most recent CD, last year’s “Between My Head and the Sky,” has generated some of the best reviews of Ono’s 40-plus-year recording career and you have the making of a true event.

Yet, the real kicker was that this show was billed as a performance by the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, a band name last used on 1973’s “Feeling the Space” and one that the vocalist decided to retire after her husband’s murder in 1980. This version of the Plastic Band featured Ono’s son Sean Lennon (who performed on multiple instruments) as well as former Cibo Matto keyboardist Yuka Honda and members of the experimental alt-rock ensemble Cornelius.

Collectively, the group would deliver more “Noise” than “Pop” during its nearly two-hour set – but it sure was a delightful noise. It’s been a long time since local rock fans have seen anything as daring and adventurous as what the Plastic Ono Band delivered on Tuesday.

The capacity crowd, a mix of veteran Yoko heads, Beatles nuts old enough to probably remember the Fab Four playing Candlestick Park and curious young hipsters, was mostly very appreciative of the performance. There was one report of a fan demanding her money back, complaining that Ono “can’t sing and she can’t dance.” That person, one can assume, didn’t know what she was getting into when she bought her ticket.

Neither did the rest of us, for that matter, and that’s why we came.

What we didn’t end up getting was a load of guest stars, like the troupe of A-list celebrities (Eric Clapton, Paul Simon and Bette Midler, among others) that showed up to perform at Ono’s concert last week in New York. As it turned out, however, no added star power was necessary to make this gig memorable.
Following an enjoyable opening set by indie-rockers Deerhoof, the headlining set began with a 15-minute movie, a collage of pictures and video clips that served as a refresher course on Ono’s history. Ono then took the stage and began to sing, in a sweetly fragile voice, an unaccompanied version of “It Happened.” Moments later, the band kicked in, the “singing” stopped and the screeching began.

That’s the acid test for a would-be Yoko fan. The wordless sounds she makes, which range from wails to moans, are the No. 1 reason why so many can’t stand the artist. Others, including this critic, hear those noises and believe they add more to the emotional wallop of the music than any possible alternative that could be written down in full sentences.

It’s easier to enjoy Ono’s music if you stop thinking about her voice in usual performance terms and consider it instead as an instrument. If you can make that leap, which wouldn’t be hard for someone familiar with jazz “scatting,” it becomes possible to relate her voice to a trumpet or another type of horn. And, man, can that cat blow.

As the band continued on through new tracks like “The Sun is Down!” and older cuts such as “Walking on Thin Ice,” the music grew more urgent and intense. It didn’t feel like we were hearing a collection of individual songs as much as we were watching pieces of a puzzle come together. Through the musical chaos, somehow, meaning was found.

One person’s noise is another’s masterpiece. Which term best describes the music of Yoko Ono is up for the listener to decide. Either way, the judgment is sure to be made passionately, which is probably all this rock icon would want.
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