Glass act pares back the layers of Lennon

By Paul Simei-Barton

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Interwoven songs and interview snippets lay bare legend’s soul.
John Waters' vocal delivery lacks Lennon's raw purity but still packs an emotional punch.
John Waters' vocal delivery lacks Lennon's raw purity but still packs an emotional punch.

With a finely woven blend of song and interview fragments Australian John Waters takes us inside Lennon's glass onion, showcasing the brilliance of his songs and his genius for provocative conversation.

There are insightful snippets on all the familiar Lennon touchstones: the tough childhood in Liverpool, the meteoric rise to fame, psychedelic drugs, the Maharishi, Yoko Ono, the rancorous Beatles bust-up and the tragic assassination.

What sets the show apart is the way it reveals the tormented emotional life of a musical legend. Waters inhabits his character so thoroughly it's not difficult to imagine Lennon himself is addressing the audience with remarkable candour, down-to-earth humour and refusal to indulge anything that smacks of pomposity or pretense.

The stripped-down versions of the songs with lovely piano accompaniment from Bill Risby emphasise the melodic quality of Lennon-McCartney compositions and though Waters cannot match the extraordinary purity of Lennon's voice his delivery carries a powerful emotional punch.

Every fan will find their own favourites but for me the best moments came from the 70s Plastic Ono Band material. The gut-wrenching howl of Mother and the visceral anguish of Cold Turkey are well suited to Waters' gravelly voice and on Crippled Inside he captures the snarling, combative attitude that grew out of Lennon's dysfunctional family life.

Some of the better-known songs are given fresh interpretations with the jaunty pop vibe of Help! morphing into a passionate cry from the heart, while the Zen calm of Watching the Wheels is infused with a sharply cynical sense of irony.

But not everything is angst ridden and uplifting versions of Beautiful Boy and Imagine show Lennon's soaring romantic optimism was always grounded by the feisty spirit of a tough working class kid from Liverpool.

- NZ Herald

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