Not many 77 year olds would begin a show with a lingering close-up of a fly rummaging through their lady parts, but then Yoko Ono isn’t your average 77 year old. Artist, musician, widow, provocateur – Ono divides opinion like very few other twentieth century icons, and that seems to be just the way she likes it. This gig, to mark what would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday and the lighting of the Imagine Peace Tower, was always going to be a love-in, but Yoko still threw in a few unusual touches to confound expectations. The revived Plastic Ono Band, led by Sean Lennon and joined by sometime members Yuka Honda, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline and multi-instrumentalist Cornelius, opened strongly with ‘Why’ followed by ‘Walking On Thin Ice’. What struck most about these two Ono classics was how modern Yoko’s trademark shrieks, caws and coos are, and how music from forty years ago still sounds so fresh.
Often, the freeform nature of the evening meant that songs ran together and it became hard to make sense of what was happening on stage (also: nothing from Yes, I’m A Witch – why, Yoko, why?) but Yoko was such a charming performer that all was forgiven. Between songs she shared some enigmatic wisdom perhaps specially dreamt up for Iceland. “The prison is made of ice and melts in the spring,” she intoned at one point. “The castle is made of clay and it will crumble in time.” Hindsight fails to shed light on the meaning of this tale, but at the time it seemed pretty special. Similarly, ‘Hiroshima’, a spare and haunting ballad between mother and son, was introduced by Yoko as about “a girl waiting in a room and there’s no walls and no more ceiling and her piano is melting and she is very happy that the sun is rising.”
We’d been promised special guests – would Paul McCartney turn up? Or Lady Gaga, who played with them in LA? Er, no. For the encore, Yoko was joined by Ringo Starr, a very shifty looking Mark Ronson, the recipients of the Lennon Ono Grant for Peace, including novelist Alice Walker, the mayor of Reykjavík Jón Gnarr, and, finally, all of the audience for a pretty heartwarming rendition of ‘Give Peace A Chance’. As the song faded out, we all clicked out ‘I love you’ in semaphore with the special mini-torches we were given, and Sean Lennon blew the candles out on a huge white birthday cake (it was his birthday too). The lasting impression, then, was that Yoko’s night was more about the love than the music. And that seems to be just the way she likes it.