Peace and love, naked bottoms and PVC-clad punk rock: Yoko Ono’s Meltdown had a triumphant opening with sets from the Plastic Ono Band and gothic legend Siouxsie.
Each year, London’s Southbank Centre asks a different musician to curate Meltdown, a two-week concert festival. This year was the turn of Ono. The coming fortnight boasts Patti Smith and Marianne Faithful, waspish crooning from Boy George and feminist electro-smut from Peaches.
There are also newcomers. Hotly tipped U.K. band Savages will support Iggy Pop. An enjoyable Friday set by Liverpool instrumentalists Baltic Fleet demonstrated the psychedelic mid-point between Joy Division and Daft Punk. The festival will culminate on June 23 with a performance of “Double Fantasy,” the final album recorded by Ono and husband John Lennon.
In the beginning, however, is “Bottoms.” Ono’s 1966 movie, a sequence of close-up naked posteriors also called “No. 4,” greets the audience taking their seats for the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band. Simple, irreverent, impossible to ignore, it is a classic introduction.
A sprightly 80-year-old, Ono isn’t afraid to rock. There are righteous grooves and psychedelic freak-outs. She peers over her sunglasses, wearing a black jacket and top hat.
Her band, all hats, jackets and expensive tailoring, looks like a crack squad of elite 1960s hipsters. Its playing is vibrant and exciting.
This is unsurprising. Led by Ono’s son, Sean Lennon, it features members of cult Japanese acts Cibo Mato and Cornelius. Lennon’s girlfriend, model Charlotte Kemp Muhl, demonstrates that she is not just a magazine cover-grade pretty face, taking on guitar and bass duties.
Ono’s avant-garde roots show in her caterwauling ululations. Her stilted English adds to the charm of “Walking on Thin Ice.” Her howl is devastatingly authentic on “Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking for her Hand in the Snow).”
For the encore, she gets the whole audience chanting “I Love You.” The simple statement, delivered without irony or pretension, is surprisingly effective. “Ladies and gentlemen,” says a doting Lennon, presenting Ono at the curtain call, “Mum!”
Viv Albertine takes a different approach to motherhood. The former member of punk originals the Slits plays an enjoyably rough and ready set. Her shouty song “Needles,” she explains, is about the trials of undergoing IVF.
Siouxsie plays magisterial gothic rock. She models a full-length white PVC dress with biker boots, a shock of jet-black hair and trademark eye makeup.
Her set is filled with hits from her former band the Banshees. There are rolling drums, malevolent bass, disembodied guitars, nagging riffs and Siouxsie’s mighty vocals. The pop hook of “Happy House” glowers. A cover of “Dear Prudence” luxuriates in gloom. The nefarious climax of “Face to Face” sees the hall strafed with Batman spotlights.
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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