8.14.15 I’d never seen Yoko Ono in person, so when the email arrived from the Museum of Modern Art announcing that the Plastic Ono Band would perform two live shows (in conjunction with the retrospective of her artwork currently on exhibition), I bought tickets immediately. I guess I thought she would play with a rock band led by her son, Sean Lennon, and they would play some of her well-known songs (“Walking on Thin Ice,” “Kiss Kiss Kiss”). But no, this was an art performance from beginning to end. The intimate show took place in the smaller of MOMA’s two movie theaters, and while waiting for the performance to begin Yoko’s film Bottoms played on screen. I don’t mind looking at asses for half an hour – I rather like it, in fact, especially if they’re hairy male asses — but my friend Anu got a kick out of noticing audience members squirming in their seats and studying their smartphones to avoid watching the film.
When Yoko took the stage, she seemed quite frail – she is 82 and tiny – and, backed by a trio (drums, guitar, and cello), she proceeded to do the kind of singing you or I might do if we were doing our best Yoko Ono imitation: shrill, wordless witchy cackling. She did that for a while until she ran out of steam and said, “Okay, that’s an introduction.” She alternated between reading earnest awkward poetry (“Listen to your heart! Respect your intuition! Make your manifestation!”) and improvising with the band (she would turn to the musicians, whom she never introduced, and say “Do more jazz now”), occasionally doing some stiff dancing in front of random films from her early years in Japan of children playing and passersby bowing and smiling. After 50 minutes it was abruptly, awkwardly over.
As I indicated in my blog post about the retrospective, I admire Yoko Ono tremendously as a conceptual artist and as a force for peace and justice in the world, but it was hard to think of this as good music.