When Sean Lennon announced, halfway through his New York solo debut, that he was about to do a cover by “the greatest band ever,” he raised plenty of eyebrows by promptly launching into a lovely, slightly shambling rendition of “God Only Knows” — a 1966 hit by the Beach Boys.
Thanks to Lennon’s smiling delivery, the ad-lib didn’t come across as a slap at those expecting the 22-year-old singer/guitarist (and John Lennon’s younger son) to deliver the sort of “like father, like son” performance offered by most second-generation rockers. Instead, it sounded more like the admiration of a genuine fan, eager to pay tribute to one of his influences — and one of the main rivals of his late father’s band.
Those influences read like a veritable who’s-who of rock’s more interesting sound-sculptors. The electro-folk opener “Mystery Juice” evoked memories of Beck’s earliest shows (a comparison that extends to Lennon’s gawky, likable stage presence), while the shards of feedback that punctuated tunes like “Spaceship” could be traced back to long-absent noise nabobs My Bloody Valentine.
Although far from slick, the brief, decidedly casual set saw few outbursts of the outright atonality that marked Lennon’s 1997 shows with IMA (a group that teamed him with his mother, Yoko Ono). For the most part, the tone of Lennon’s originals — which will be showcased on “Into the Sun,” due for a May release on the Grand Royal label — was relaxed and somewhat vulnerable, a surefire tonic for those who appreciate such lo-fi leaders as Pavement and Sebadoh.
While Lennon proved an engaging presence, his performance could benefit from a bit more time in the practice room, given his occasionally ragged singing (which was buoyed by bassist Timo Harris’ sweet harmony vocals). Then again, in revealing the chinks in his armor, he elicited the kind of audience warmth seldom generated by mere clinical precision.