MANHATTAN, NY—At the Modern Sky Festival at Central Park, Chinese bands faced off against their Western counterparts in a seven-band knockout with closer Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band fusing both Eastern and Western traditions into a Molotov cocktail of loud wailing guitars and vocals.
The band’s carefully constructed set went down like a play to Ono’s musical coming out from her days working with John Lennon that took on the avante garde and ended on a quieter, more reflective tone by night’s end. Her backup band included members of Yo La Tengo, Thurston Moore and even son Sean on a number. They combined the primal and guttural yank of Ono with a tastefully minimalistic unit of noise rock that they dealt out in short and terse statements of time and space.
Ono pulled back at the reigns of guitarist Thurston Moore and Ira Kaplan’s potential to slam-bam the night away and instead laid out a foundation of controlled musical chaos as she teased the crowd with her band’s skilled musicianship.
Letting them loose ever so carefully after a cathartic wail, she opened the night on “Why.” She delicately pulled back on “Higa Noboru” (“The Sun Rises”), sung in Japanese and English that was a quiet number as images of a young Ono and her family flickered onscreen. Ono introduced “Don’t Worry Kyoko” as the B-side to the Lennon single “Cold Turkey,” then began a howling screech that careened throughout the park.
She introduced her feminist appeal “Woman Power” from 1973’s Feeling The Space album, adding, “We’re all in this together, maybe guys need some woman power too!” The song went down like a chant echoing Lennon’s vision of the ’70s as the couple fused the radical politics of the time with the playful.
Guitarists Kaplan and Moore did an incredible job banging out the two-chord ditty and keeping things interesting as they squeezed out minimalist guitar rock. The rhythm section of Georgia Hubley and James McNew laid down the basic four to the floor rock beats that second drummer Denardo Coleman spiced up with some jazz-inflected funk.
Ending the set with a poem, “Blood River,” that she read from her diary on stage “to take me to the night” and “we’ll never be apart again,” you could feel the spirit of John Lennon’s presence in the air. It was a beautiful moment.