John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band
Live in Toronto '69
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2009, Volume 16, #9
Written by John Metzger
Tue September 1, 2009, 05:35 AM CDT
The Beatles turned down an offer to perform at Woodstock, but promoter John Brower miraculously managed to coax John Lennon into making his first concert appearance in several years at Torontoís Rock ínĎ Roll Revival, which was held a month later in September 1969. The only problem, however, was that Lennon hadnít assembled a new band, which was a direct result of the fact that, although he likely had been considering his options, he hadnít yet made the decision to leave The Beatles behind. After putting together a makeshift outfit that featured Eric Clapton, bass player Klaus Voorman, and drummer Alan White, Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono crossed the Atlantic in order to unveil his next project: the Plastic Ono Band.
Not surprisingly, Lennonís performance at the Rock ínĎ Roll Revival has been memorialized on several occasions over the years. Originally, the music surfaced on the late 1969 album Live Peace in Toronto, while video footage of the event was presented in Sweet Toronto, a film by esteemed documentary director D.A. Pennebaker. Save for a three-minute interview with Ono, which was recorded in conjunction with an exhibition of Lennonís artwork in 1988, no new material was added to the collection to create its latest incarnation Live in Toronto í69. During the segment, Ono essentially explains the origins of the groupís name.
The reason that Live in Toronto í69 keeps getting recycled has more to do with the collectionís historical importance than it does with Lennonís performance. The Beatlesí had yet to issue Abbey Road and Let It Be, but the writing already was on the wall. After his appearance at the Rock ínĎ Roll Revival, Lennon increasingly began to focus upon his solo career, and his set in Toronto widely is considered to be the point at which he let go of any hope that The Beatles could continue to function as a band.
Musically speaking, Lennon and his collective largely played it safe. With only a few hours to rehearse, the group understandably delivered only a short set of songs, and these careened from early rock classics to The Beatlesí Yer Blues to the eerie, futuristic shrapnel of Onoís Donít Worry Kyoko (Mummyís Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow). Unfortunately, all of the material was rendered in a frustratingly uninspired fashion. Although Blue Suede Shoes, Money, and Dizzy Miss Lizzy were firmly entrenched within the Rock ínĎ Roll Revivalís thematic framework, they were performed without the punchy, bar-band pizzazz of The Beatlesí days at the Cavern Club. Elsewhere, Lennonís new song Cold Turkey not only was undermined by its lack of harrowing edginess, but it also nearly fell apart because the Plastic Ono Band was uncertain about its arrangement.
Therefore, the highlights of Live in Toronto í69 are the glimpses that Pennebaker provides at several of the architects of rock ínĎ roll: Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard. With their fiery, high-energy performances, these artists collectively provided the perfect introduction to Lennonís appearance. His inability to match their intensity, however, ultimately left the lofty expectations of those in attendance strangely unsatisfied, even if they did just witness history in the making.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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