Sean Lennon – [Live]

Friday, 27 April 2007

The other day I was walking to the local market when I passed a tattered homeless man selling incense out front. He was talking to another guy and I caught the words "The Beatles? They're still making music. The Asian son of John Lennon was at the Roxy…"

It's always a surprise when I discover which likeminded people share the same musical tastes as me. Just as the incense peddler said, on Tuesday night fans gathered in the cozy blue-lit Roxy to get acquainted with the Asian Lennon's heartbreak pop dreamin'. Surprisingly, the majority present was older and the Roxy proved to be a tough crowd as these grown-ups chatted over beer, disregarding a stage that served simply as a backdrop to the mix 'n mingle taking place. Regarding the attention given to the stage, it was like open mic night at the local dive. Truth be told, the milling crowd's disinterestedness was mighty and I too gave up giving the stage a chance. The old ones really sock it to ya. Besides, it was impossible peering past the plastic cups and shoulders and even more hopeless to hear over the clamor.

Two muddled openers and a short wait later, the haunted strains of a dulcet guitar drifted from behind the heavy curtains, bringing the audience to finally hush up and pay heed. The much awaited Sean Lennon stepped out on stage with an acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder, shaggy haired, and unquestionably the genetic merger of his notorious parents, and began the night with "Spectacle," by far the most quietly livid song on his latest album, Friendly Fire.

As for the story behind Friendly Fire: Sean Lennon's girlfriend, Bijou Phillips, daughter of John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas, cheats on Lennon with his best friend, Max LeRoy. Bitter fights brace their friendship. LeRoy dies unexpectedly in a motorcycle accident without reconciliation. Friendly Fire is dedicated to LeRoy and a certain muted mourning and never-mended heartbreak weaves itself throughout the album.

Next followed "Parachute," where Lennon compares falling in love with falling out of an airplane, wrapping up the sensations of risk and thrill in an acoustic dream. Prominently featuring Yuka Honda from Cibo Matto with a three-synth set on stage, many of the songs performed that night built up the fragile and fine details of Friendly Fire. I was hoping for a three-piece string orchestra but Honda had those sounds covered. Lennon and his band played all of Friendly Fire that night, including the opening track of the album "Dead Meat," crafting the delicate, icy sounds of a music box left ajar. A sigh heaves all through it—a song that Lennon prefaced as one he wrote in "D minor, the saddest of all keys." But the dude was no wet blanket. Personable and armed with anecdotes in abundance, Lennon was lots of fun.

The night still had its faults. While endearing, Lennon's casual attitude revealed his blithe playfulness as well as some sloppy showmanship. At times the backing vocalists clashed in harmony to Lennon and, to its detriment, the songs sludge in a slower rhythm than on record. Nonetheless, when he performed "Falling Out of Love" I still got the goose bumps. Craftsmanship may be the minor fall but the sorrow and the confession of the performance was the major lift.

So the question goes: what do old people, homeless people and lazy journalists all have in common? A love for the 3-minute pop song. It's pretty and it's pleasing. Like Mozart's compositions that span the emotional spectrum from sublime to awful without ever sacrificing the aesthetic of the sound, no single note curls out ugly and unexpected on Friendly Fire—all of it is spotless and lovely like the white sleeves of the album art. Of course, Mozart's masterwork is poles apart from Lennon's pensive aches—that's not what I'm trying to say. It's easy listening, sure, and just simply enjoyable.

Friendly Fire is out now on EMI/Capitol

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