Tribute bands can be a dime a dozen and little more than a glorified radio or stereo. But then there are acts like John Waters. He has been performing his John Lennon tribute since 1992 and has also done a six-month stint in London’s West End with the show. And it’s easy to see why it continues to appeal, because Waters really gets at the essence – the heart and soul of Lennon – through an excellent mix of personal anecdotes and the music, of course.
Waters is no stranger to the stage and screen, having performed on Play School for almost 20 years and racking up over four decades in the entertainment business. He is one of those rare triple threats in that he can sing, dance and act and as he proved at the Opera House, he can also play some fine acoustic guitar. (The first ever audience Waters faced was as a singer and bass guitar player in The Riots, a London-based blues band in the sixties. It is unsurprising that some of the arrangements of Lennon’s Beatles songs and solo material were also given the blues treatment).
The show began with Lennon’s childhood in working class Liverpool with the pieces, “Overture – Scouser’s Lament” and “Liverpool Lullaby”. They were sung and performed on the piano by Stewart D’Arrietta and were a throwback to when Lennon was raised by his Aunt Mimi. John Waters then entered the stage for a mind-blowing, “A Day In The Life”. The first obvious thing was that Looking Through A Glass Onion was not about flashy costumes. Waters was dressed in a black leather jacket and dark jeans throughout, making him resemble Lennon during his early Hamburg days rather than when he was well-known as an international pop star.
There was virtually no backdrop, save for a psychedelic piece which was really only used for “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. Instead, the focus was on the songs, some played in full and others just excerpts (which meant they were never really given the opportunity to overstay their welcome). They were interwoven with Lennon’s story with the lighting also modified to add to the storytelling effect. Waters tried to keep the narration chronological but some of it was changed around for greater, artistic effect and the set list was ordered so that the songs fit a theme and event rather than focusing too heavily on when it was written.
Waters was convincing as Lennon, as he spoke in a perfect Scouser accent and delivered anecdotes with the same wit and wisdom as the Great Beatle himself. As Lennon, he was self-deprecating and funny, with talk of wearing the same underpants as everyone else, despite the fame and comparisons to songwriters like Bob Dylan. Waters also captured John Lennon’s singing voice beautifully, at times doing the raw and raspy blues snarl of his early recordings through to the melodic and smooth tones of his later pop songs.
“You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” signalled Lennon’s departure away from writing gobbledegook numbers. “Working Class Hero” built on this, especially when Waters described the guitar as the ultimate street-fighting weapon. This rendition was faster and was almost like a honky-tonk tune that seemed more layered, than the rough, stripped-back original.
The show touched on Lennon’s initial meeting with Paul McCartney, The Beatles’ fame and their acrimonious break-up (it’s one that Lennon said was beaten up by the press). There was the controversial incident when Lennon said The Beatles were bigger than Jesus and their amazing love song which followed, “All You Need Is Love”. A lot of material was covered about the man who appealed to people’s pop sensibilities and who was once considered a radical (his political activities with Yoko Ono and other activists resulted in his being watched by the F.B.I). Lennon was ultimately a chameleon and Waters put it best when he said that if every song of Lennon’s had been a specific reflection of his character, he’d have something like 27 personalities!
D’Arrietta was excellent in his accompanist role. He used a stomp box to give some power to the blues arrangement of “Revolution”, he strummed an autoharp to take us to the Maharishi’s India and he did a broody version of “Strawberry Fields Forever” on the piano. “The Ballad Of John & Yoko” was played in much the same manner as the original (at least insofar as the number of personnel on hand). “Jealous Guy” was absolutely sublime and gorgeous, especially as it was described around Lennon’s lost weekend with May Pang. Similarly, “Beautiful Boy” was heartfelt and a lullaby to the son that he and Yoko never though they’d be able to have.
John Lennon was often thought of as a pop star, writer, musician, activist, guru and teacher and Looking Through A Glass Onion captured ever single facet of the jewel that was his short but rich life. The show went for almost two hours with an interval and it received a warm applause from the audience, as they were touched by Waters’ portrayal of Lennon, especially the humour, craziness, intelligence and emotion. The finale was the unsurprising but rousing “Imagine”, a minimalist version that started off in darkness and slowly saw the two performers’ faces being illuminated. It was a good way to sum up this intimate and highly personal evening. Waters and D’Arrietta had pulled back the curtain on Lennon’s life and allowed us a glimpse at his body, mind and spirit and allowed it all to shine on in a grand, pop symphony.
Looking Through A Glass Onion Sydney set list (NB: this list only contains the original Lennon and Beatles songs performed):
1. A Day In The Life
2. Glass Onion
3. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
4. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
5. Working Class Hero
6. How Do You Sleep?
7. Norwegian Wood
8. All You Need Is Love
9. I’m So Tired
11. Sexy Sadie
12. Come Together
13. Strawberry Fields Forever
15. Nowhere Man
19. The Ballad Of John & Yoko
20. Crippled Inside
23. Jealous Guy
24. Watching The Wheels
25. Beautiful Boy
Originally published on 30 January 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/sydney/review/john-lennon-looking-through-a-glass-onion-by-john-waters-28-01-14
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