Sunday, August 2, 2009

Live Piece of Crap in Toronto

Last month I bought John Lennon's Live Peace in Toronto LP. It was one of those Beatles-related platters I didn't own, but always wanted. I bought a copy in fine condition, with the John and Yoko calendar included. Gotta have the calendar, although it's a pretty cheap piece of work.

Soon after, I read that a DVD had been released of the concert itself. For those not in the know, The Plastic Ono Band, composed of John, Yoko, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman and Alan White, headlined the 1969 Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival in Varsity Stadium. It was a one-off show for the POB - they'd never played together.

The DVD is D.A. Pennebaker's film Sweet Toronto with a prologue of Yoko interviewed in 1988. Although Cat Mother, The Doors and other contemporary acts played the 13 hour event, the movie focuses on the '50's stars. Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, are killer, ultimate pros who put on top notch shows. Then comes John.

The crowd on that sunny September day was enthusiastic about the oldies, who were not that old (Lewis was 34, Richard 37 and Bo 40), but went nutty for Lennon. John made it clear that this ensemble had not rehearsed and they would do songs they knew. They slogged through "Blue Suede Shoes", "Money", "Dizzy Miss Lizzy", "Yer Blues" and "Give Peace a Chance" with moderate success. And there's Yoko, standing next to John the entire time, mostly holding lyric sheets, occasionally crawling into a bag and, during "Yer Blues", shrieking away. Was John embarrassed at being party to this catastrophe in front of his rock heroes? He sure looks that way.

John was ill, and maybe that's why he looks like a deer in the headlights, totally out of his element. But remember, The Beatles hadn't appeared live since 1966, and he was nervous. It doesn't help at all that Yoko, though an intriguing artist perhaps, is a no-talent as a singer. Her vocalizing is apart from the music. There's no sense that her actions are remotely connected to what the band is playing. Her clapping during "Give Peace a Chance" is memorably detached from any sense of rhythm.

The DVD package refers to the show as the "second most important concert" in rock history. Hmm. Is Woodstock first? I would guess so, but there are so many other shows of import- Beatles at Shea, Stones at Altamont, Clash at Bond's, I could go on and on. It is a shock to see John performing with long hair and bushy beard. That John is a still picture to me, as on the covers of Abbey Road and Hey Jude.

The looks are priceless. The staring that Clapper directs towards John may be in anticipation of musical cues, but so many coincide with an animal howl from Mrs. Lennon, that's it hard not to read disgust. Interestingly, John shoots Yoko similar looks, especially as she warbles through "John, John (Let's Hope for Peace)" a cacophony of violent screaming that is as far from peace as one can get. I may be projecting, but John seems as if he's wondering how he got to this point, playing on stage with a crazy Japanese lady instead of his peers. It's so bad and neverending that John and band finally exit as Yoko stands alone, still "waaahing" alone at centerstage. I couldn't help but think that, in that instant, John sought out his mates, rather than Yoko. If only there had been an intervention.

The show is a lifeless endeavor. For all who have seen footage of The Beatles at Shea Stadium, and watched the Fabs laughing hysterically and having a great time, it's a tragedy that bySeptember of '69, John Lennon could perform his favorite songs from his youth with nary a smile or laugh. Towards the end, he goes into a forced jig, a feeble attempt to show that he's having a ball. His face betrays his feet. In the parlance of the times, a real bummer.

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