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John Lennon In Concert II: Iman Lababedi Reviews the Closing Night Of the Across The Universe Tour

When I caught Lennon at the Beacon in  a warm up for his John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band Across The Universe tour last year I was thrilled he had dusted off his rhythm guitar and got back to basics. In 2003, Lennon and Ono essentially played Gratefruit from one end to another before leaving the stage to Sean to close the set. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t what we wanted. So the bluesy set I caught at Beacon was a pleasant surprise with Clapton following the leader and Starr and Klaus Voorman locked in to a heavy groove.

Lennon has been on the road since then tweaking and settling into what from all accounts has been a great night out. On opening night in Toronto (big shock there, right?) Lennon told Rock NYC contributing editor Mike Nessing: “We’re not growing any younger, you know, but it isn’t for the fans, it isn’t for you, it’s for me: I want to play them again.” See the Set List for the Toronto concert in the prior post.

Last night at MSG was the last night of the tour and tix were going for $1,500 and upwards on Fanscape. Yoko Ono’s Fly plays on the sooundsystem but the Plastic Ono Band comes on at precisely 815pm. Clapton and Jimmy Page on lead guitar (they would trade licks all night long to devastating effect: this is nothing if not a rock band), Billy Joel on keybs, Voorman on bass and Ringo and son Zac  on double drums. They play an intrumental jam of “Come Together” before the main man enters looking half his age in a metallic grey suit, close cropped haircut (as though he had just cut off his hair for peace) , a white tee and white sneakers. He waves to the audience, straps on his rhythm guitar and launches into.. Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” leaving the entire band flat footed. Lennon laughs his way through the lyric as Clapton and Page check yet another convoluted Berry key.”Gotcha” says Lennon pointing at Clapton before settling into “Starting Over”.

If 2004’s Plastic Ono Band was an avant-garde art band, 2009’s version is a straight up rock and roll band and, not unlike Van Morrision on his It’s Too Late To Stop Now tour,  the set is as much a testament to the enduring powers of rock and roll as it is to the enduring myth of Lennon. Lee Dorsey’s “Just Because” (John covered it on the Rock And Roll album segues) into “Because” (with strings on back ground tapes!! cmon, John, you can afford a live string section), the Shirelles “Mama Never Told Me” into “Nobody Told Me”. Maybe more importantly, Lennon gives Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” the vocal performance it deserves and can still smoke “You Really Got A Hold On Me”..

Lennon is in good humor tonight, he answers the queery “Where’s Yoko” with an “I remember a time  you didn’t like her.” A chuckle. “She’ll be out later”. Another shouted “I love you, John,” gets a  “That’s what you say to my face” Pause “You swine”.

But it’s all just icing on a rock and roll cake. “Cold Turkey” sounds like Led Zep, “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide (Except For Me And My Monkey” like the Mother’s Of Invention, and “Rip It Up/Ready Teddy” like Little Richard meets Jerry Lee: it’s like it’s 1960.

Even “Instant Karma” -for all its “think you’re a superstar” sentiments doesn’t slow down the tempo and Lennon at an astounding  sixty nine gets his first breather on the penultimate “Imagine” before maybe the highlight of the pre-encore concert, “Across The Universe” It is a thrill to hear the song with just Lennon’s one of the greatest of all times rock vocalist of all times caress this completely masterpiece. Gone is Spector’s fucked up background and it is just the man who created it and the song itself.

It is obvious something special is going to happen at the begining of the first encore when Clapton plays the opening of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and instead of Lennon walking out George Harrison does and to thunderous applause. Harrison is followed by Elton John  on second piano and Lennon singing “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” (Lennon famously bet John it wouldn’t get to number one, and in the early seventies played it at this very venue as payment to the bet) Elton than takes lead on “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and Lennon, Harrison harmonize on “I Saw Her Standing There” before McCartney enters from the wings.

I have never heard applause like this ever. MSG is literally shaking. As if by a secret code the stage is emptied except for the four Beatles. They do “Two Of Us”, “I Got A Feeling,” cheekily enough “We Can Work It Out” and finally “Sgt Peppers”, “Good Morning Good Morning” and “A  Day In The Life”. The band hugs like brothers, smiling, like the nearly fifty years since Hamburg never happened. The Beatles  leave the stage but they are called back and the stage is filled. There’s Yoko and Linda hugging, Harrison and his son Dhani, all THREE Lennon sons and the entire band launch into “All You Need Is Love”.

A dream concert, a dream night, across the universe to NYC.

Set List
Come Together
You Can’t Catch Me
Starting Over
New York City
Nobody Loves You When You’re Down And Out
Help!
Baby Let’s Play House
Run For Your Life
You Can’t Do That
A Hard Day’s Night
Just Because
Because
Mama Never Told Me
Nobody Told Me
Cold Turkey
Instant Karma
Everybody’s Got Something To Hide (Cept for Me And My monkey)
Happiness Is A Warm Gun
Rip It Up
Ready Teddy
Bring It On Home To Me
You Really Got A Hold On Me
Imagine
Across The Universe

1st  Encore
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Whatever Gets You Thru The Night
Lucy In The Sky With Diamons
I Saw Her Standing There
Two Of Us
I’ve Got A Feeling
We Can WOrk It Out
Sgt Peppers
Good Morning, Good Morning
A Day In The Life

Second Encore
All You Need Is Love

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