John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band: Live In Toronto ’69

The rudimentary recording technique and amateurish quality of the audio/video content on this DVD is perfectly in keeping with the rough-hewn nature of John Lennon’s performance with his pickup band at the 1969 Toronto Peace Festival. Even though the segment in which he appears constitutes less than half the running time of the disc, the Beatle’s first solo performance in public is nevertheless a riveting experience to watch.

Clearly nervous to begin with—see his little jig after greeting the audience–Lennon sounds more self-assured with each successive number. Beginning with the rootsy "Blue Suede Shoes,"  Lennon reaches deep into the history of his renowned band, as he belts out on "Money" and further astonishes with his vocal on another Beatles’ cover "Dizzy Miss Lizzie": the self-assurance in his phrasing is remarkable as is the increasing force of his singing, precisely because it sounds like it comes so naturally to him.

Eric Clapton plays guitar equally effortlessly during those numbers and gets a bit more room to move on "Yer Blues," responding, not surprisingly, with deeper feeling on a blues number.. Slowhand’s presence is a center of gravity for the rhythm section comprised of drummer Alan White, subsequently a Lennon sideman and member of Yes, and bassist Klaus Voorman, an artist/musician friend of the Beatles from their early Sixties club days in Germany. The group’s collective stability belies the hasty preparation for this abbreviated set, conducted on the airplane in flight to Canada, as briskly related in the liner notes of journalist Ritchie Yorke.

"Give Peace a Chance" is a ramshackle crowd-pleaser, no more or less memorable than the other performance excerpts included on this DVD. Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard are of no more than passing interest, but certainly more palatable than Yoko Ono’s two extended indulgences: they consist of little more than riffing and feedback combined with the vocal caterwauling that marred some of Lennon’s set. Ono’s 1988 interview is a brief reminiscence of her early relationship with the ex-Beatle and like this package as a whole, except for the headliner’s interval, more curio than comprehensive documentary.

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