On the weekend of March 22nd & 23rd, Ono delivered scorching improvised sets with Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, to the obvious delight of the audience, many of whom couldn’t believe they had got a ticket for this intimate venue.
On Tuesday 25th, she returned with Talvin Singh and Nels Cline for another intensely moving performance.
Coming to London after the opening of her career retrospective Half-A-Wind Show at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Ono played the spontaneous gigs at the East London club, renowned for adventurous live music.
YOKO STEVE THURSTON Setlist
Don’t Stop Me
Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mommy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)
YOKO NELS TALVIN Setlist
Greenfield Morning (I Pushed A Baby Carriage All Over The City)
O’ Wind (Body Is The Scar Of Your Mind)
I Had A Voice Like A Young Boy
One of the most daring artists of our time, Yoko Ono celebrated her 80th birthday curating Meltdown Festival in London last summer. Her retrospective Half-A-Wind show is touring to major museums in Europe, opening this week at the Guggenheim Bilbao. In 2013, she released the album Take Me To The Land Of Hell by Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band and the improvised YokoKimThurston 3LP box on Chimera Music. Ono recently published Acorns, a sequel to her 1964 instruction book Grapefruit and she remains extremely busy as an artist, musician and activist at age 81.
Thurston Moore moved to NYC at 18 in 1976 to play punk. He started Sonic Youth in 1980. He has worked collaboratively with Yoko Ono, Merce Cunningham, Cecil Taylor, Rhys Chatham, Lydia Lunch, John Zorn, Takehisa Kosugi and Glenn Branca. He has composed music for films by Olivier Assayas, Gus Van Sant, and Allison Anders. He presently records and tours both solo, with various ensembles and with his own band. His most recent recording is to be released by Matador Records September
Drummer Steve Shelley (of Sonic Youth) lives in Hoboken, NJ. He has recently recorded and/or toured with Lee Ranaldo & The Dust, Howe Gelb, Sun Kil Moon and Spectre Folk.
Guitar explorer Nels Cline is best known these days as the lead guitarist in the band Wilco. His recording and performing career – spanning jazz, rock, punk, and experimental – is well into its fourth decade, with over 160 recordings, including at least 30 for which he is leader. Born in Los Angeles in 1956, Cline has received many accolades including Rolling Stone anointing him as both one of 20 “new guitar gods” and one of the top 100 guitarists of all time.
Percussionist, Producer and Composer, Talvin Singh, is best known for creating the bridge between Indian and electronic music and has taken the Tabla to the cutting edge with the most unimaginable sonic creations. His debut album ‘OK’ achieved huge acclaim and won Singh the Mercury Music Prize in 1999. He has also been honoured with the South Bank Prize for popular music and has worked and collaborated with a diverse range of artists including Sun Ra, Ustad Sultan Khan, Terry Riley, John Martyn and Madonna. He continues to be as explorative and imaginative in his solo career as well as curating new ventures in contemporary music.
Yoko Ono review – ‘Passion and conviction’
Café Oto, London
This tiny, avant garde fireball in black hat and shades is an art happening in herself, and tonight she entrances
by Mark Beaumont, The Guardian, 26 March 2014
Idealism, tragedy, endurance … Yoko Ono at Café Oto. Photograph: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images
Yoko Ono’s gradual shedding of her Beatles-ruining stigma and acceptance as an avant garde pop icon has reached breakneck pace of late. Following projects and performances with Japanese electronic experimentalist Cornelius, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth and Lady Gaga, she curated 2013’s Meltdown festival while left-field luminaries including tUnE-yArDs, Beastie Boys and Wilco’s Nels Cline queued round the block to contribute to her 15th solo album, Take Me to the Land of Hell, her third since reforming Plastic Ono Band with the help of her son, Sean, in 2009. Come her 81st year, kitsch has turned to bona fide cult.
Hence nights like these, when her art leanings borrow a contemporary edge from her admirers. Introduced by her 1965 film Cut Piece, in which a New York audience was invited to scissor away chunks of clothing from a motionless Ono, she performs her more experimental songs and spoken-word pieces with an improvised backing from Cline and Mercury prize-winning tabla virtuoso Talvin Singh. The songs are structured loosely around Ono’s childlike poetry of feminist oppression, anger, loss, abandonment and eternal hippy naivety – “we’re going to cover this Earth with our love!” she howls during Rising as though she’s still stuck in that bag in 1969. But they build into primal therapy freak-outs of quite staggering dexterity, Singh tapping primordial moods from his tablas and Cline stretching and mangling impossible notes as Ono has a blazing row with his guitar.
Ono’s voice is the least refined instrument here – part art, part orgasm, part coughing fit – but as she groans, screams, speaks in tongues and does impressions of a laughing motorbike, leading the music by her mood alone, it’s always with passion and conviction. This tiny fireball in black hat and shades, her fragile figure crammed with idealism, tragedy, endurance and cultural import, is an art happening in and of herself, and tonight she entrances far more than she irritates.
Yoko Ono Residency at Cafe Oto (22, 23, 25 March)
Review by London Jazz News
A really special buzz gripped Cafe Oto, where Yoko Ono played three dates, announced at very short notice, two with Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley at the weekend, in a rare sighting of the Sonic Youth guitar/drums duo, and one with Nels Cline, guitarist extraordinaire and lynchpin of the current Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, and percussion maestro, Talvin Singh, for a Tuesday after-hours show.
The sense of occasion in the air did nothing to compromise the intimacy and atmosphere of the tiny Dalston venue; patient queues, a discreet security guard at the door, fairy lights decorating the room and more reserved seats than Cafe Oto has ever seen!
On Sunday the audience was greeted by the sound of twittering birdsong and the sight of a succession of bare bottoms from her notorious film No. 4 (1966), and, to preface Yoko’s entry, a short documentary, particularly moving when John Lennon’s bloodstained spectacles were shown before footage of Yoko accepting a Grammy for Double Fantasy.
On Tuesday, an excerpt was shown from Cut Piece, the 1964 performance where the artist invited the audience to cut away her clothing, before a small voice announced, ‘Hi, I’m Yoko’ as the petite, black-clad performer was ushered in.
The inspired composition of the trios was fully vindicated by their razor sharp interactions with the unstoppable and extraordinary octogenarian. Everybody was kept on their toes by Yoko’s iron-willed momentum, tempered with gentle, good-humoured communication, and the passion of her delivery. The concentrated, single sets of around 45 minutes were of indisputable five star quality.
The material visited on each performance overlapped, yet both trios created very different moods and settings for Yoko’s often harrowing lyrics and tortured vocals. The mixture of scorching electrics and space-drift lacunae which Moore and Shelley tapped, digging in to the Sonic Youth soundwall, was complemented by the sublime Indo-Japanese fusion that enveloped the room two nights later as Singh’s richly voiced Indian percussive palette inspired Cline to imbue his guitar with sliding sitar tones.
Gyrating more like a twenty-one year old, Yoko proved that she had lost none of the power to slice through to the emotional heart of the issue – whether deeply personal or globally relevant. The strength of her cathartic, unsettling, non-verbal vocalisations was balanced by a poetic lyrical streak that travels to areas both painful and naively whimsical.
Rising II’s visceral opening lyrics (the 2001 version), ‘You stoned me, you drowned me, you chained and blinded me …’ carried Yoko’s optimism in their wake as she entreated, ‘Listen to your heart, trust to your intuition’, points at which Shelley intimated the lightest possible drum presence and Singh injected flicks of shimmering zither sweeps in two deeply resonant and moving interpretations.
Why, from her first Plastic Ono Band excursion (1970), stills buckles under its original weight and her searing vocals were as acidic as they were 45 years ago. Moore and Shelley ground out raw, axle-grinder strains as the foil to the desperation in Yoko’s Japanese Minyo singing-rooted wails. On the same number, Cline’s slide guitar escalated its frenetic, pained intensity as he and Singh rapidly constructed passages of uplifting fluidity. Singh’s precisely place tabla strokes, thuds, and hand swipes to the cymbals flew with Cline’s intricate finger work and waves of reverberation. Riveting eye contact with Yoko was at the core of each three-way interaction.
With an inspired minimalist stroke, the amplified ticking of Moore’s wristwatch placed against the guitar pickup dramatically punctuated the hushed poetry of Will I. ‘Will I miss … the ocean… the sunrise … the city lights … the jokes?’, the latter eliciting a subdued ripple of laughter.
In contrasting spirit, Cline answered each of the poem’s implicit questions with a sally of shuddering fretboard bon mots in Tuesday’s finale, but not before the spellbound audience was treated to a poem that ‘came to me yesterday’ … ‘like going to a different space’, which touched on a dream episode that involved Yoko losing touch with her mother.
On the build-up to Sunday’s endgame, Yoko’s sensuous strains and breathy voicings were supported by Moore placing snatches of feedback and grizzly drones alongside Shelley’s mallet touches and tiny bell tinkles, as Fly (1970), the film following a fly alighting on a the body of a woman (actress, Virginia Lust), was projected behind them. A fresh gloss was put on Don’t Worry, Kyoko (1971) by their buoyant, chugging rock and roll take before Yoko had her well-worn guitar strapped on for a duet with Thurston that had them prowling tentatively like animals – not without smiles – before their guitars crashed, literally, in a final, frenzied electric embrace.
‘I have a voice of a woman in winter.’ In these nine words, which Yoko Ono enunciated on both nights, she really did sum up a series of mesmerising performances that will go down among the most uniquely moving in Cafe Oto’s history.