Yoko Ono Shimmies, Shakes and Shines with Clapton, Midler, Simon, and Sons

yoko2 Yoko Ono Shimmies, Shakes and Shines with Clapton, Midler, Simon, and Sons

“I have to tell you,” Yoko Ono said to her audience at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Tuesday night, a few days before her 77th birthday, “you have a long life ahead of you, and it’s going to be beautiful.” Her Brooklyn Academy of Music show–half concert, half tribute–was filled with all kinds of things: shimmying, screeching, thumping, family members, guitar gods, art films, drag, a tuba, a cello, and as Ms. Ono would say, a lot of cosmic splendor.

The first half was full of thick, loud, strange, twisting grooves, which probably wouldn’t sound like promising news to those who know her only as a screechy-voiced Beatles destroyer. But this wasn’t music for a pilates class in Westchester–it was interstellar and kaleidoscopic, with pelvic bass lines bouncing below gooey guitars and horns. She sashayed, shuffled, shook and swayed. Sometimes it took her across the stage, especially on the groovier songs from last year’s Between My Head and the Sky. The exclamation point in the title of “Ask the Elephant!” deserves to be there.

The first set ended unexpectedly gently. Over only trickles of piano from her son, Sean Lennon, and a late-night Tom Waits horn, Ms. Ono sang in Japanese and English about hell and earth: It was the kind of thing that could sound like bad Philip Glass, but it was smoky and sad.

But the tribute half of the concert (“Act II,” as it’s called on the We Are Plastic Ono Band program) stole the show. First of all, in the spirit of Ms. Ono’s canyon-sized proclamations, I’ve got to say that the sound Paul Simon and his son, Harper, made on the two songs they played and sang together was one of the most exceedingly warm things I’ve ever heard live on a stage. They played “Hold On” from John Lennon’s first solo album, and “Silver Horse” from Season of Glass, her first after his death. One is sung to a wife, and the other is sung by a widow.

Eric Clapton, the guest that came on afterward, turns 65 next month. But his guitar, especially on The White Album‘s “Yer Blues,” was hysterical, sludgy, and huge. “In sound check, he was teaching me to play how my Dad did it,” said the younger Mr. Lennon. “A touch sophisticated.”

Justin Bond, who performs in boozy drag as a half of Kiki and Herb, played Ms. Ono’s jilted-woman torch song “What a Bastard the World Is.” Beforehand there was a joke about Ms. Ono’s Twitter, which gives advice about sending diagrams of your footsteps and flammable paper moons to friends: “A lot of the time I don’t know what she’s talking about,” said Mr. Bond, “but I do everything she says.”

Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon played “Mulberry,” which was not amused, not amusing, and what the Times politely referred to in its review of the show as “arrhythmic.” With more rhythm, amusement and tuba, Bette Midler came on next to play “Yes, I’m Your Angel,” a few minutes of caramelized bath house jazz.

After “Rising,” one of the first set’s arty disco songs, full of Ms. Ono’s points and crouches and marches, Mr. Lennon son whispered something to into her ear. “He’s always saying, ‘Oh it’s great, it’s great,’ to make me feel good,” she explained.

“I’m not lying, Mom,” he said. The crowd sighed. A few days before the concert, Ms. Ono told this reporter about her maternal feelings: “You would never know, because you’re not old enough, I’m sorry to use those expressions, but when your son grows up, and he’s doing his own thing,” she explained, “it’s nice to get a chance to be with him for a while.”

She said the show’s guests had been his idea: “I’m doing a regular show of mine, and then they’re sort of added. Added bombs! Not bombs! Bombs is a bad word! What is it? Added sparkling stars.”

mabelson@observer.com