TVD Live: Concert for Yoko Ono, Washington, DC and the World at the Hirshhorn, 9/17

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | Aside from her considerable career as a conceptual artist, Yoko Ono may also be the most polarizing figure in rock. She still carries a lot of unfair blame for being a convenient target as The Beatles were breaking up, and may have showed up on too many Lennon solo albums for purists. At the same time, she inspired a generation of edgy rockers who picked up on her extreme modes of expressions—the shrieks, the trills, and moans—that accompanied some pretty far out records. Artists from the B-52s to Mariam Makeba took up the inspiration and noise bands made her a totem.

Sonic Youth was so enamored with the sound, their Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore cut an album with her called Kimyokothurston. So it seemed right that Gordon headline “A Concert for Yoko Ono, Washington and the World” to wrap up the so-called Summer of Yoko at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The event, created around the 10-year anniversary of her Wish Tree for Washington, DC in the sculpture garden, included a couple of other conceptual works, new and old at the museum, and was concluding with a big concert outdoors in the museum’s plaza.

And while there may have been a number of more conventional approaches the invited acts could have taken—covering more straight ahead songs like “Walking on Thin Ice,” “Kiss, Kiss, Kiss” or any number of her dance remix hits of the past couple of decades, they all mostly decided to take passages from her 1964 volume of poetry and performance suggestions, Grapefruit, and run with it.

Ono herself, now 84, was not there, but her voice echoed in the plaza chanting “Imagine Peace” to begin the event Sunday. Then followed a film Arising from 2013 depicting some sort of mannequin dump while we heard a nice combination of droning guitar and her guttural wails.

The Philadelphia poet and performance artist Camae Ayewa, who performs as Moor Mother, came next, twirling knobs and reading from her own work. Aurally, her explorations took in Ono’s suggestion in her 1963 Beat Piece, which in its entirety is “Listen to a heart beat” and sped it up accordingly for the 21st Century. Doing Ono’s Secret Piece (“Decide on one note that you want to play. Play it with the following accompaniment: The woods from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. in summer”) allowed for the remixed noises of crickets, bird calls, and wind.

Liz Bougatsos of the New York band Gang Gang Dance was augmented by rock—no less than Brendan Canty of hometown heroes Fugazi on drums and Dana Waches of Vorhees on guitar, as she did a pretty good approximation of her 1970 “Why” (an indelible pre-punk Ono recording on which Ringo Starr played drums). Bougatsos wailed ecstatically in an Ono manner, eventually returning to the theme of peace—“What do you see?” she demanded in a participatory moment. “Peace!” audience members replied. In between, they played more of the experimental 1960s black and white films of Ono—featuring the striking of a match or an eye blink, slowed down to take minutes.

But Gordon as headliner seemed the main draw, as she read some Ono pieces, and followed suit. In Voice Piece for Soprano, Gordon did what it suggested: “Scream. 1. against the wind, 2. against the wall, 3. against the sky.” Amplified, her unnerving shriek echoed clear down the National Mall. On an electric guitar piece she noodled around as necessary. She reported a string of random phrases as suggested by Ono’s Collecting Piece. And she performed her own suggested action, that of a boy with a guitar, windmill chopping it, falling to the stage.

There was a rush to the stage when she announced a final work in which viewers are meant to grab a shard of a shattered vase and take it home with them, vowing to return in 10 years to assemble it again. Because of museum concerns, the vase had been pre-shattered (though there was an example of what it might have looked like intact), but that didn’t stop the rush to the stage.

People amassed for their souvenir of conceptual art as the final film emphasized it was truly the end—it was Ono’s Film No. 4 (Bottoms), her compendium of naked rear ends walking away from the camera.





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