Two days into this year's Meltdown Festival, and one thing is apparent: after decades polarising opinion, Yoko Ono continues to be as divisive as ever.
Those lucky enough to attend the opening concerts have greeted her with a huge outpouring of love. Five-star reviews affirm that this octogenarian has the kind of onstage presence and energy that performers less than half her age would kill for. And yet, those that look on from the sidelines - and comment on review websites en masse - refuse to countenance the notion that Ono could ever be anything more than a leech, still sucking the lifeblood from her husband's legacy some 30 years after his murder.
In truth, Yoko Ono has a vast and somewhat unnerving back-catalogue. Some of it ("Cut Piece") demonstrates real genius, while other pieces (many of the arty statements she makes on Twitter, for example) can feel a tad trite and vacuous. But in the presence of the work itself, much of it performance art that can only be experienced in the moment, one feels somewhat overwhelmed. And the feeling you come away with is an almost childlike love for the world.
Take, for instance, Friday night's performance of "Hi Ga Noboru", performed with Sean Lennon on piano, stripped down in the hands of mother and son, and as striking as footage of Edith Piaf at her most arresting. Alone in the spotlight, Ono brought the Royal Festival Hall to its knees... and then left the stage giggling to herself as though she'd pulled off a huge and irresistible I-told-you-so.
There's no doubt that she senses irony in the love with which London now welcomes her. She's joined onstage by Peaches for a mad thrash through "Yes, I'm a Witch", and brings it to a close amid tumultuous applause with a wry smile, explaining, "I wrote that song when you guys were really attacking me." Largely, however, she seems to have put the years of hate behind her. Repeated yells of "we love you, Yoko!" are taken in and returned with similar affection. It's like a sixties love-in all over again.
It must be said that the good will is helped by Sean Lennon and his current Plastic Ono Band lineup, featuring Cibo Matto's Yuka Honda, Japanese soundscape genius Keigo Oyamada (AKA Cornelius), bassist Jared Samuel, and the thunderous drumming of Yuko Araki - an extraordinarily tight band considering that they're not a regularly performing entity. Lennon intersperses the performances with self-deprecating comments that the audience lap up, dropping anecdotes about "dad" and other Plastic Ono Band alumni.
As the band launches into "Don't Worry Kyoko", he announces his intent to take on Eric Clapton's original guitar part, adding that it shouldn't be too difficult, as, "Eric was so high at the time, he played the same things over and over again for 25 minutes." Whatever it was that either of them performed, it has the audience rushing the stage within seconds, and the POB leave the stage in the wake of what can only be described as a night of triumph.
It's the Ono-Lennon's that sprinkle the magic on the smaller of the festival's second night gigs. You can head to the Autojubilator blog for my full Cibo Matto review, but the interesting point to make here is that Yoko and Sean chose this gig to guest at rather than the bigger Siouxsie show next door. You get the sense that Yoko's art has never been about anything other than love, and that at the heart of it all is family. At this year's Meltdown Festival, Yoko Ono may have come home.Suggest a correction