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Music review: Yoko Ono's Double Fantasy Live, Royal Festival Hall, London


“We want people to take it in the spirit it was written,” says John Lennon, talking about Double Fantasy, over footage of the Beatle and his wife strolling through Central Park in 1980, “with love and a lot of sweat.”

Both love and sweat are in abundance for the final few hours of Yoko Ono’s curation of this year’s Meltdown festival. Ono has assembled a thrillingly esoteric ensemble to recreate the pair’s final work together.

It’s an almighty cast featuring Patti Smith, Peaches, Boy George, Siouxsie Sioux and others on vocals accompanied by a house band featuring Earl Slick (who played on the LP), Polar Bear’s Seb Rochford on drums and, of course, skulking in the background on bass, Sean Ono Lennon, the acquiescent ghost at the feast, so much does he resemble his father’s 1970 self.

Sean pops in and out of proceedings here, and you can’t blame him. It’s haunting when Patti Smith strolls on stage to sing “Beautiful Boy”, acknowledging the sadness of Lennon’s late lullaby to his son: “"I chose this song because my son’s late father (the MC5’s Fred Smith) also wrote a lullaby for him and I have total faith that both fathers are watching over their sons," whispers Smith. With the backing of just Patrick Wolf playing harp her band’s Tony Shanahan on an acoustic guitar, she delivers the song with such a tenderness that the audience’s head feels collectively stroked. Less soothing are Lene Lovich’s slightly bonkers take on Ono’s “Give Me Something” and Boy George’s swagger on “Cleanup Time” but no worse for it.

Double Fantasy famously combines Lennon’s midlife contentment/ennui and Ono’s more artistic (for want of a better euphemism) tendencies. There’s no more obvious marker for that than Pete Molinari’s straight cover of “Woman” being followed by “Yes, I’m Your Angel” with Lovich, Peaches and Bishi imbuing Yoko’s “tra-la-las” with a Gilbert and Sullivan-esque wink and nudge.        

The only thing missing at this point is John and Yoko, really. But Lennon appears live from Cold Spring Harbour, NY, on the big screen singing a sketchy demo version of “Dear Yoko” to his new video camera. It’s a weird convergence of the most famous man in the world and YouTube home cover-version culture (watch it, above).  

After the awed hush has risen, there’s a storming run through Ono’s “Hard Times Are Over” by Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt before Boy George and Bishi return to encourage the typically staid Royal Festival Hall crowd to come to the front and dance. It’s not quite Thursday, when Iggy and the Stooges conducted their traditional stage-storming, but it was something.

That energy is exacerbated by the last track. Led in by the arrival of Talvin Singh on tablas and a howl from Earl Slick’s D-string, Siouxsie bounds onto the stage in a black and white catsuit to howl through “Walking On Thin Ice”, Ono’s dancepunk mini-classic (and the tape Lennon had in his hand when he was shot). Finally, into this tinderbox, comes Yoko, howling the yips in “…Thin Ice” and bounding around with Siouxsie with an energy that not many 40-year-olds, let alone 80-year-olds, ought to have.

Ono brings proceedings to an end with a yell that begins with a demented “Aiiiii,” but ends with a tender “I love him.” On that, Kishin Shinoyama’s photograph of Ono and Lennon kissing alights from skies and Ono kisses all of her acts in turn.