Yoko Ono can throw herself just about any sort of party that might strike her fancy, so one day before her 77th birthday, she opted to take over one of Gotham’s most beautiful concert halls and let her freak flag fly — as high and spectacularly vividly as it ever has.
For the better part of three hours, Ono and a wide array of peers and acolytes treated a sold-out crowd to an alternately uncompromising and tender stream of sonic consciousness that came across as one part tribute and one part affirmation that she’s not only still kicking, but still evolving. From the taped nature sounds that echoed through the auditorium pre-performance to the vintage art installations that lined the walls, the feel was more akin to the environments Ono created four decades ago than a concert as such.
For the first segment of the show, Ono and her current band snaked through a passel of pieces, gradually intensifying the volume and tension. For the opening number, “It Happened” (a relatively obscure early ’80s B-side), Ono used a hushed tone, then gradually built into her trademark wails and other ululations for “Mind Train” and “Moving Mountains” — both of which brimmed with the passionate edginess that’s elicited such passionate adoration (or its polar opposite) over the years.
After a brief break, the mood shifted to one of tribute — with Ono popping in now and again to take part in the action. Bette Midler, one of the more unexpected names on the guest list, turned in an appropriately sweet, cabaret-styled “Yes, I’m Your Angel,” while Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore dove headlong into a reverb-heavy “Mulberry,” one of the most improvisational tracks Ono and John Lennon recorded together.
Lennon’s spirit hovered in the background of the second set, most notably on a version of “Yer Blues” that reunited Ono, Klaus Voorman and Eric Clapton — the last of whom also unspooled some stinging solos during a set-ending salvo of “Death of Samantha” and a thoroughly hypnotic “Don’t Worry Kyoko.”
The evening ended, as might be expected, with an all-hands-on-deck sing-along of “Give Peace a Chance,” a message that was, of course, welcome. But fortunately, the program as a whole reminded the audience that disturbing the peace is every bit as important sometimes.