Monday, June 23, 2008

John Lennon 1: Live Peace In Toronto

After three albums of “unfinished music”, Live Peace In Toronto was the first of John’s “journalistic phonographic” endeavors to appeal to his mass audience, simply because—compared to his other experiments on wax with Yoko—it was the first LP that contained music remotely similar to that heard on Beatles LPs. It is truly a snapshot of a moment in time; the band rehearsed on the plane to Toronto, and how he got Eric Clapton to play lead guitar is still one of rock’s great mysteries.
Being part of a ‘50s revival concert, it only makes sense that John starts off with “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Dizzy Miss Lizzie” and “Money”. He kept it simple and sounds happy, if nervous. “Yer Blues” works, being the only song John had previously performed in front of an audience since 1966 (at the Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus, with Clapton in tow). “Cold Turkey” sounds a bit tentative compared to the single version which hadn’t even been recorded yet, and he wraps it all up with “Give Peace A Chance”, not even bothering to duplicate the original lyrics, though Clapton does get to sing backup.
Then Yoko steps to the front “to do her thing all over you”; it’s a safe bet most owners of this LP rarely played side two after the first purchase. She shrieks over bludgeoning riffs and feedback, a performance that’s much more interesting to watch than it is to listen to; by the end you can see John glare at the crowd while Yoko continues to scream.
The recording itself is pretty hot, and John’s nervous energy keeps the listener riveted. It’s much too short, of course, but it’s still pretty cool that it exists at all. John and Yoko had already decided that their every move be documented, but hadn’t figured out what constituted “newsworthy” or could potentially embarrass them. (Case in point: The calendar, included in the first LP pressing and reproduced in the CD booklet, contains some unique pictures and captions, but also sports one uncomfortable close-up of the couple’s puffy, heroin-addled faces.)
Basically, they came, saw and conquered, and Apple finally had a solo Beatle LP go top 10. In John’s case, the fourth time was the charm. (We can’t stress this enough: if you’re looking for melodies, you really needn’t bother with Two Virgins, Life With The Lions, or Wedding Album. If you want unlistenable albums in your collection to impress your friends, then go right ahead. You’ve been warned.)

The Plastic Ono Band Live Peace In Toronto (1969)—


  1. Around the same time, in June 1969, Lennon held a peace seminar in Ottawa, a video of which has just been released.

  2. The actual Two Virgins record may be dispensable, but the sleeve should be in your collection.