Yoko Ono’s unstinting efforts to promote world peace have not proved terribly successful – the bed-ins with John Lennon, the 1966 film of people’s wobbling buttocks as they walk on a treadmill. But in one arena peace has broken out. Ono, reviled for so long as “the woman who broke up The Beatles”, has seen her reputation recover. The world has learnt to love Yoko.
Over the next fortnight she is curating the Southbank Centre’s annual Meltdown festival. The programme began with her appearance alongside a reformulated Plastic Ono Band led by her son Sean Lennon. It was a game effort by Ono, who is 80, but the show was rickety, as wobbly as the enormous close-ups of buttocks that greeted us as we entered the hall.
An introductory film recapping Ono’s remarkable life should have been fascinating but was sabotaged by a technical glitch. The gremlins continued as Ono and her musicians appeared. A faulty monitor led to frantic onstage interventions from a technician in the opening section of the set, a mundane distraction as The Plastic Ono Band tried to locate their deep psychedelic groove.
Opening with an unreleased song, “Moonbeams”, the set drew heavily on Ono’s recent material. But the general tone of the music was backward-looking, evoking a vanished era of avant-rock – droning guitars, motorik beats, trumpet wails. It was well realised, but the atmosphere, punctured by the earlier glitches, was flat and antiquarian.
The musicians included the superb Japanese experimental-rocker Keigo Oyamada, aka Cornelius. Sean, who bears an uncanny resemblance to his father, swapped between bass and guitar with his partner, Charlotte Kemp Muhl. Ono, in hat and dark glasses, danced about like someone learning to swim and sang her ululating vocals, a reverb-treated glossolalia of shrieks and sighs. She was an amiably eccentric presence, but her act felt as routine as her platitudes about peace. Only in the final song, 1969’s “Don’t Worry Kyoko”, Ono singing touchingly about time and mortality to Sean’s piano accompaniment, did we get a true measure of her artistry.