Just Imagine, Juggling

BY DAN AQUILANTE / November 13, 2010

John Lennon would have turned 70 last month, but this year's top tribute to the revered musician was saved for last night when more than a dozen entertainers gathered to pay their respects with songs at the Beacon Theater.

The all-star concert for the former Beatle had a packed lineup that included Jackson Browne, Patti Smith, Cyndi Lauper, Shelby Lynne and Joan Osborne, all performing Lennon classics, often in stirring renditions.

Considering it was the 30th anniversary of this tribute show, this three-hour show had a surprisingly fresh feel. That was due in part to the show's multi-arts program that included dance, film and even juggling.

Surprisingly among the many guests there was no sign of any Lennon kin, including his widow Yoko Ono or sons Sean Lennon or Julian Lennon.

Of those artists who did perform, Texas troubadour Alejandro Escovedo did a slo-mo cover of "Help!" where the snail-like tempo added a sense of poignancy to the Beatles tune that's now 45 years old.

Jackson Browne totally nailed Lennon's "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and Cyndi Lauper powered her way through an orchestral version of "Across the Universe." Later in the concert, the pair dueted on "A Day in the Life" but never found chemistry with each other or the song.

The oddball high point in the concert was a cover of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" where singers Maura Kennedy and Joan Osborne were accompanied by YouTube juggling sensation Chris Bliss. They didn't miss a note and he didn't drop a ball. While a pairing of vocals and juggling might not seem to have anything to do with Lennon, it would certainly have appealed to John's sense of absurdity.

A less than original song treatment was whipped up for a video of Lennon's signature tune "Imagine." Created by the Playing For Change group, it was a disappointment because it was a carbon copy of the organization's hit Internet video for the Ben E. King classic "Stand By Me," where the whole of the song was made from individual musical snippets stitched together. Seeing the same video for a different song was cheesy.

Still, for the most part, this show allowed for interpretation and had excellent musical moments that nicely honored Lennon nearly 30 years after his tragic murder.