Yoko Ono Thrills Crowds At Corporate
By Oscar Figueroa
The annual Bell
Atlantic Jazz Festival at the Battery Park Lawn prides itself on booking diverse
groups of performers on the same day's bill. Saturday's event had Yoko Ono teaming
up with her buddies DJ Spooky and post-punk sexy-guy Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth
(his wife Kim Gordon has nice things to say about Yoko on VH1's Top 100 Women
in Rock). Although I'm fortunate enough to have seen Yoko in concert three times
before, I was still really excited about seeing her perform that day. After the
first act, Graham Haynes, ended, my friends and I raced to the front of the stage
to score an unobstructed view, thinking thereíd be a barrage of fellow
Yoko fanatics, clamoring to get up close. Although there was a minor stampede
of sorts, it seemed like the majority of the audience that day was there to see
the main act, the British art/geek band Stereolab. When Yoko came out on stage,
there was, however, a barrage of loud cheers, and a few screams from the crowd,
like "Yoko you rule!" and some dweebs yelled "imagine!" Whatever,
she coolly looked out into the crowd and stated "let's stay alive, okay?"
The crowd's reaction was a mixture of surprise and acceptance. She tends to specialize
in simple utterances, which border on naivete in their optimism, but are actually
quite disarming to a cynical sea of twenty-somethings in the audience. She then
inaugurated the performance with one of her trademark guttural shrieks, and Spooky
and Thurston followed suit with their "noise" accompaniment. Spooky,
well known amongst the artier electronic/illbient/ drum-n-bass circles (actually..folks
tend to think he's pretentious), stood behind an armory of turntables and gadgetry,
churning out some okay soundscapes, while Thurston wailed at his electric guitar
with a drum-stick, producing jarring, but beautiful sounds.
short set (about 20 minutes) seemed at first like improvisation. Three experimental
giants just going at it on stage - totally cool. These three have recorded a CD
together, so it's possible that they performed a piece from their future release.
It did seem, however, like Yoko was guiding the direction of the performance.
Yoko would utter whispers, or at times howl into the microphone, and her companions
would follow her lead. Towards the ending of their jam set, the tone changed direction,
and Yoko sang in a lingering quasi-chant similar to "Greenfield Morning...",
while Spooky plucked at his thumb piano. These last ten or so minutes had in some
respects, World music feel. During the performance (I was up front by the speakers),
I was so enthralled by these three. I kept flashing to what it must have been
like to see Yoko do some improv jam with Ornette Coleman back in the late Sixties.
My only complaint with the performance was that it was much too short. Also, at
times Spooky's beats drowned Yoko's voice. Perhaps it was an avant-garde dueling
diva kind of thing. She ended the performace by saying "Stay alive, for me
for you for the universe." Although not her greatest performance (I'm still
partial to her first concert at Knitting Factory in 96'--where she blew the house
down), she still managed to deliver an engaging concert. Yoko rules!