By Ted Slowik
It's exciting to do something no one has ever tried to do before.
As best I can tell, there has never been a live performance of “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” in its entirety. Not by Lennon himself, not by any other band or group of people, or by any individual.
An extensive online search revealed no other documented live performances of the 11-song collection.
That's why I'm looking forward to performing Lennon's debut solo album with five other musicians at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 22, in the Studio Theatre at Lewis University, 1 University Parkway, Romeoville. Tickets are $10 and may be reserved by calling 815-836-5500. Proceeds will benefit Heritage Theatre Company, a troupe that includes alumni of Lewis University’s Philip Lynch Theatre.
Performers include Robyn Castle of Joliet, Clarence Goodman of Chicago, Ron Kostka of Minooka, Tim Placher of Joliet and Kev Wright of New Lenox.
“John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” was released on Dec. 11, 1970, in the United States and United Kingdom to critical acclaim. The album features Lennon, Ringo Starr on drums and Klaus Voorman on bass. Producer Phil Spector and Billy Preston each play piano on one song, and Yoko Ono contributes as well.
Rolling Stone magazine ranked the album No. 23 on its 2010 list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
“Also known as the ‘primal scream’ album, referring to the painful therapy that gave rise to its songs, ‘Plastic Ono Band’ was John Lennon’s first proper solo album and rock & roll's most self-revelatory recording,” Rolling Stone said.
“Lennon attacks and denies idols and icons, including his own former band (‘I don't believe in Beatles,’ he sings in ‘God’), to hit a pure, raw core of confession that, in its echo-drenched, garage-rock crudity, is years ahead of punk,” according to Rolling Stone.
Many artists have performed Beatles albums in their entirety, from Cheap Trick doing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" in Las Vegas in 2009 to Phish performing "The White Album" on Halloween, 1994 in Glens Falls, N.Y.
But "Plastic Ono Band" presents unique challenges in the vocals and instrumentation, which may be why it's never been performed live. Foremost are the famous Lennon "primal screams" on songs like "Mother" and "Well Well Well." These performances sound like Lennon shredded his vocal cords and lacerated his larynx.
Then there's the musical accompaniment. Most songs feature just bass and drums backing up Lennon on vocals and either guitar or piano. Three tracks are just Lennon and an acoustic guitar. Easy, right?
While the playing is simple and at times sloppy, timing is critical. I hope the performance captures the energy and raw emotion of the album. It's not intended to be a note-for-note replication of the collection.
I think a key reason no one has tried to perform the album in its entirety before now is that the songs are intensely personal. John was sorting out some pretty heavy stuff at the time, not the least of which was the breakup of The Beatles. Four of the songs mention his parents. It's clear his therapy sessions must have included confronting feelings of abandonment.
My main reason for wanting to perform this album is to honor the brilliance of the songwriting. The songs, many with simple one-word titles, ("God," "Love," "Mother,") tap into universal truths. The lyrics are honest, personal and confessional. I could see how the words could make some people feel uncomfortable.
The performance will include strong language featured in Lennon’s lyrics. The performance of the album is estimated at 45 minutes. Following an intermission, participating artists will perform other material, including original compositions.
This will be the fourth consecutive year Heritage Theatre Company has presented an Alumni Connections Concert in October at Lewis University. Visit www.lewisu.edu/plt to learn more.