Half a Century Later, John Lennon’s ‘Plastic Ono Band’ Still Hits Hard

For all the concentration on his own new songs, Lennon also had a way to blow off steam, find a focus and consolidate his band: playing t...


For all the concentration on his own new songs, Lennon also had a way to blow off steam, find a focus and consolidate his band: playing the oldies, as one disc in the set reveals. Between takes of his new, bruised songs, he hopped back to what was, even as far back as 1970, vintage rock ’n’ roll: Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley. It was a common language, a shared joke, a way to regroup, some comic relief. Then they went back to the hard stuff.

After all of the boxed set’s traversals of Lennon’s album sessions, there’s an Easter egg tucked into the Blu-ray audio discs. It’s the jam sessions, recorded on Oct. 10, 1970, with Lennon, Voorman and Starr, that Ono would edit down to most of her own “Plastic Ono Band” album, which was released the same day as Lennon’s. (Ono’s finished album isn’t included in the boxed set; it was most recently rereleased in 2016.)

The unedited Ono tracks are long and usually nonstop: 21 minutes of “Why Not,” 16 minutes of “Touch Me.” The stalwart rhythm section takes up a vamp — bluesy, rocky, droning — and Lennon tops it with slide guitar, swooping and jabbing and quivering. Then Ono joins in to unleash a thoroughly astonishing array of vocal sounds — shrieks, mews, moans, whoops, ululations, yowls, glottals, keening long lines, baby cries, witchy cackles — with Lennon’s guitar hovering nearby, mingling with her and egging her on. “Paper Shoes,” with assorted echoes and reverb layered atop vocals and instruments, becomes utterly dizzying. In 1970, the music’s closest kin would have been the burgeoning krautrock of Can in Germany, who — like Ono and the Plastic Ono Band — were merging psychedelic improvisation with mantric Minimalism, simultaneously focused and deranged.

The sections of the jams that Ono excerpted to fit on an LP in 1970 were usually the most tense, jarring, abstract stretches — which is to say she chose well. But the full-length tracks testify to the Plastic Ono Band’s stamina and closeness, especially to how attentively Lennon and Ono were listening to each other. Teasing, goading, exploring and intertwining, their wordless interactions are intimate primal screams.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Half a Century Later, John Lennon’s ‘Plastic Ono Band’ Still Hits Hard
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