The walrus was Paul, Clapton was God and Lennon is Legend. John Waters knows this because he’s had a lot of practice. Playing the tribute show, Lennon: Glass Onion since 1992, he sure knows how to live and breathe John Lennon. Oh, and that’s along with a little help from a friend called, Stewart D’Arrietta.
The late John Lennon wrote hundreds of songs and letters as well as several books. He never did write his own memoirs but Waters has put together something as close as his spiritual one in Glass Onion. In this show, he weaves together around 30 of Lennon’s best and most poignant songs along with anecdotes and glimpses from his life’s story. Think This Is Your Life told be the great man himself, with a lot more music and feeling.
The show commenced with D’Arrietta playing some lovely flourishes on the piano and setting the scene for working class Liverpool. Waters then appeared in black jeans and rock star leather jacket looking just like the Fab Four pre-Beatlemania. “A Day In The Life” saw Waters spitting out some loud and raspy vocals. They were reminiscent of Lennon’s younger days making rock ‘n’ roll music, at times until he was so hoarse he couldn’t speak. In the Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House, Waters was a little too high in the mix at times. This wasn’t a problem however, when he had the more melodic and quieter songs to play.
“You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” was the first of Lennon’s ventures into something serious. A glorious pop song that doesn’t feel the need to spell it all out to the listener, this was a noteworthy inclusion in a show celebrating Lennon’s life and times. Some of the storytelling by Waters was chronological, while other things were grouped according to a mood or theme. This meant it was an excellent ticket to ride through Lennon’s artistic and chameleon-like personality.
Waters is known for performing on Play School but there was no hint of that on-stage boys and girls. The audience however were another matter, with a diverse group of ages including both locals and tourists coming together to see this Gospel according to John. Waters adopted a note-perfect Liverpudlian accent. The lines he had written and delivered boasted that typical Northern-English wit and charm. It was pure Lennon, a devastating mix of self-deprecating, wise, sexy and funny.
The key events from The Beatles’ career got a mention; that fortuitous meeting with a young Paul McCartney and their experimental forays into psychedelia and trips to India. On the former note, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” was absolutely resplendent in rainbows. There were also references to Lennon’s marriage to Yoko Ono and the pair’s political activism. One thing this show reminded us was that although Lennon lived for just 40 years, he crammed in more than most people do in several lifetimes.
Songs like “Norwegian Wood” and “Julia” were as pretty as the originals. We all laughed when Waters rolled his eyes at the idea that people thought Lennon was a married man with a “great” imagination, while writing the former. “All You Need Is Love” meanwhile, was a warm hug of an anthem but “Revolution” was the obvious crowd favourite thanks to some soulful piano by D’Arrietta. This man also tickled some mean ivories during “Whatever Gets You Through The Night.”
It’s great that Waters isn’t afraid to include those little boy lost moments from Lennon’s life, including songs like “Help!” and “Nowhere Man.” A lot of Beatle tributes stick to the joyous ditties like “Love Me Do” and their ilk, but that would be a disservice to the sadness and pain that Lennon endured alongside all the riches and pleasures. You can’t have the happy-go-lucky tracks without the painful ones like “Mother” and “Cold Turkey.” These are a stark contrast to the bubbly effervescence of “Beautiful Boy,” Lennon’s ode to Sean, the son he and Yoko almost never had. Suffice to say this was lived up to its name here.
D’Arrietta was a great foil and accompanist and Waters often played a divine acoustic guitar. D’Arrietta would chime in with a great quip or two, but it was Waters’ magnetic energy that had us all entranced. “Jealous Guy” was one of many tracks that gave me tingles up and down my spine. But everyone will remember the haunting quiet of “Imagine” because it was such an intense and effective choice of closer. Lennon’s short life may have ended, but thanks to his amazing works of art and respectful tributes like this one–he lives on.
There are as many Beatle tribute acts as some people have hot dinners, but some are a cut above the rest. John Waters is incredible playing Lennon; it’s probably the closest you’ll get to the real thing in this lifetime. He isn’t afraid to take us to some dark and emotional places because these add to the enigma and mystery that was the inimitable Lennon. In this show, two Johns make a right and take us all down for one epic magical mystery tour.
The reviewer attended the performance on February 19.
Review score: four stars (out of five).
Lennon: Through A Glass Onion plays the Sydney Opera House until February 24.
For more information and tickets please visit: https://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/events/whats-on/Contemporary-Music/2019/lennon.html