Cibo Matto / Sean Lennon: New York Bowery Ballroom

Sean Lennon performs new material at this benefit for Petra Haden...

Sean Lennon is previewing some of his long-awaited new material for the folks in the Bowery Ballroom tonight, and there’s a quick, whispered consensus in the room – it’s pretty bad. Of course, Lennon’s first solo album, ‘Into The Sun’, wasn’t much cop, so believing his promise that the new one would be better required a bit of a leap of faith from the beginning. The songs are being played acoustically for this set, and Lennon’s overly-nasal singing style is brought right to the forefront as a result. Two of them are called ‘The End Of The World’ and ‘Forgettable’. To use the first to describe the set would be a bit harsh, but the second one works just fine.

Luckily for everyone involved, Lennon is fabulous when he takes off the solo hat and steps into his role as a member of the ever-expanding band that is Cibo Matto. Founding members Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda made a slightly strange move by actually opening for themselves tonight – they began the night with a low-key set of old favourites, including ‘Le Pain Perdu’ and ‘Artichoke’, then left the stage to the evening’s other acts, only to return for their proper set later on, with full band in tow.

It’s worth noting that the entire show is actually a benefit, organized to help violinist Petra Haden, formerly of That Dog, help pay off the exorbitant medical bills she incurred as a result of a car accident last year. It’s for this reason that there is a general air of goodwill in the room tonight. It’s also for this reason that everyone smiles when Petraherself does a brief performance, along with a friend on bass, that basically involves making a lot of noise and blowing an assortment of whistles and horns – we smile, and not a single thing is thrown at the stage.

Conversely, Cibo Matto are even better the second time they take the stage than they were the first. One of the biggest treats is the accompaniment of the brilliant Pamelia Kurstin on theremin, adding an otherworldly element to a number of songs. Kurstin singlehandedly transforms ‘White Pepper Ice Cream’ into something out of a Geoff Barrow wet dream, and on a later, hip-hop geared number, spotlighting Duma Love, she creates a high-pitched electro-hook that could well be enough to make Snoop Dogg give up his samples in deference, just by magically moving her hands through the air.

It’s hard to deny that the most intense point is when the floor begins to buckle during the encore performance of ‘Birthday Cake’ as fans and band alike pogo like mad to a resounding chant of, “Extra sugar, extra salt, extra oil and MSG!” Under other circumstances, those ingredients could be a recipe for disaster, but tonight it’s a tasty treat, indeed.

Doug Levy