Thursday, June 18, 2009

John Lennon Live

By David Luhrssen
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D.A. Pennebaker was the go-to guy for rock movies in the ‘60s, having filmed Don’t Look Back and MontereyPop. Little wonder that the Oscar-nominated director was called on to document the Toronto Rock’n’Roll Revival festival, a day of ‘50s era stars capped with a set by soon-to-be-ex-Beatles John Lennon.

Pennebaker’s John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band Live in Toronto ’69 will be released as a DVD on June 23. This version is prefaced by a brief 1988 interview with Yoko Ono, recounting the origins of the Plastic Ono moniker. The ‘50s performers are represented in the documentary by a song each. The staccato Bo Diddley performed a raw, almost voodoo rendition of his eponymous debut hit. Jerry Lee Lewis slathered “Hound Dog” with greasy Southern soul. And Little Richard, the glam queen of early rock’n’roll, gave a silver-spangled version of “Lucille.”

Most of the film is devoted to an eight-song set by Lennon, Ono and a stellar basement band featuring Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman and Alan White. Pennebaker, always alert for interesting angles of vision, wisely ignores Ono during the rock’n’roll numbers, where her contribution consisted of crawling into a white sheet like a slumbering Klansman. She adds reedy ululations to her husband’s newly minted songs, “Yer Blues” and “Cold Turkey,” and comes into her own on “Don’t Worry Kyoko,” where he shamanistic, howling hard rock was a glimpse of future music.

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