Noise Pop 2010: Yoko Ono and Deerhoof at the Fox

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Noise Pop -- the quality sounds and sonic surprises always amaze, no matter how few or many shows you catch.

I didn’t get to gawk at as much as I’d like, considering I was suffering from a bad case of the sniffles. Still, Yoko Ono, live with the Plastic Ono Band on Feb. 23 at Fox Theater, was nothing to sniff at.

Deerhoof opened with a softer, more subdued set than usual. The Bay Area faves seemed a mite overwhelmed by the big room and opulent surroundings: drummer-founder Greg Saunier said as much as he pondered how “pretty” the venue is. Nevertheless the combo quickly gained steam and confidence, as Satomi Matsuzaki twirled, danced, and gestured on the side of the stage and the entire group switched instruments and uncharacteristically tackled a few covers (the Ramones’ “Pinhead” and Canned Heat’s “Going Up the Country,” the latter dovetailing perfectly with Saunier’s ethereal falsetto). I like my Deerhoof louder, in a more intimate venue, but the band was the perfect choice to prep the audience for Ono.
The lady herself contextualized her place in pop and conceptual art: a video montage unfurled a lengthy, select overview of her career. When she finally arrived onstage, yes, she screeched, yowled, chattered, and generated more noise than melody. Those vocables are some of her major contributions to the rock canon -- and her ooh’s, aaach’s, and howls sounded just as challenging today, if more familiar to ears trained to the ‘00s underground.

There were quiet elegiac moments, in the form of, for instance, the beautiful new “Higa Noboru,” as Ono slipped easily into chanteuse mode and son Sean Lennon accompanying her on piano. The ace Plastic Ono Band tackled a good share of Ono’s latest album, **Between My Head and the Sky** -- tracks like “Healing, “Waiting for the D Train,” and “The Sun Is Down” -- throwing in a fabulously playful cartoon video and a turn by virtual reality pioneer, writer, and composer Jaron Lanier on Laotian flute, sitar, and shakuhachi.

Lennon said he met Lanier as a 10-year-old and marveled then at how many instruments Lanier knew how to play. “Jaron said the key to learning so many instruments is to believe time doesn't exist," quipped Lennon.

And Plastic Ono Band’s rendition of “Death of Samantha” and “Mind Train” made time stand still in the best way possible. The former, a bittersweet rocker that ended with Ono standing stock-still at center stage, was played for the second time live (the first was at the Plastic Ono Band performance in NYC earlier in February), and the latter was likely the highlight of the evening, mesmerizing with its free-floating, unfurling **Bitches Brew**-style funk.

The finale or second encore began with an Onochord flash-along: tiny disposable flashlights marked with the date and venue were left on at our seats at the start of the show, ready to flicker “I love you” in code toward the stage. But the “Give Peace a Chance” sing-along with Petra Haden and Deerhoof soon eclipsed even that. Sloppy, ragged, moving -- it was the icing on the cake. We piled onto the BART, storm or no storm, feeling struck by lightning and energized by what we had just witnessed.

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