Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger With Bronchos Dada, Dallas Friday, May 9, 2014
It's impossible to ignore the elephant in the room when it comes to Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, so let's get it out of the way: Sean Lennon is the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He's the JFK Jr. or Prince George of rock 'n' roll. Given the global idolatry of his late father's music, a true Beatles fanatic would probably pay just to watch him doing the painfully mundane, like order a cup of coffee. Even for a non-Beatles fan (are there any?), the experience of watching a Lennon playing live fills the room with insatiable curiosity.
Of course, Lennon's near-authentic boho look does nothing to stop the endless comparisons between him and his father, either. Yet during his visit to Dada on Friday night for a show with GOASTT, Lennon did his best to assert himself in his own right. Humble and unassuming, he seemed largely unaffected by the attention thrust upon him by strangers.
Before and after the show, Lennon walked around the venue shaking hands with and borrowing eyeliner from audience members. During the show itself, he filled the silence between songs by making light-hearted jokes and blew everyone's minds when he pointed out that Dallas spelled backwards is "salad." (Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out the obvious.) His at-ease demeanor was a stark contrast to fellow curio item Macaulay Culkin, who showed up with extra security to ensure no one made direct eye contact with him when his pizza-themed Velvet Underground cover band visited in March.
As soon as GOASTT began, though, his ancestry went out the window. Although more linear than one would expect, GOASTT's brand of psych rock is full of clear melodicism and moments of kaleidoscopic chaos. It's like a late-'60s acid trip, the sort of hard-drug journey only Led Zeppelin had the map to. Along the way, Lennon made his guitar do exactly what he wanted, whether it be displays of Hendrix-esque showiness or understated minor chords, like the clinically depressed solo he dropped in toward the middle of the set.
All the same, Lennon's voice sounded eerily akin to his father's, even if his avant-garde artist mother's influence was just as noticeable. In fact the influence of Sgt. Pepper's was palpable through most songs, and the comparisons would have been unmissable coming from any band, related or not. There were exuberant crescendos, impeccable harmonies, and tambourines and xylophones, all marked throughout by elements of whimsy and goth. It was like a jukebox that alternately played Darkside of the Moon and Satanic Majesties Request, but always returned to Sgt. Pepper sooner or later.
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"Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger" may sound like the title of a Salvador Dali painting, but the name is actually based on a play that Lennon's model girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl wrote when she was little. Kemp Muhl is of course also a member of GOASTT (she plays bass) and an intrinsic collaborator in it. She has the voice of an angel, but her girlish tone was distracting. She seemed better suited for a different band, as GOASTT's aesthetic lends itself to a more Grace Slick type of voice. With that said, it's possible that this quirk may be the one thing that keeps the band from sounding too blatantly vintage.
While Kemp Muhl appeared as if she'd just stepped out of a shoot for Nylon magazine, alternative and glamorous, the rest of the band looked like the cast of Almost Famous. GOASTT's other musicians are clearly having whatever the couple is having, and play into the vibe excellently. The crafting of guitar riffs was classic, and songs often came to an end with improvisations more cacophonous and nonsensical than Marty McFly's.
But the standout was inevitably Lennon. He was perfectly enjoyable and seemed delighted with his time on stage. After returning for the rare encore at Dada, Lennon crawled on to the floor and dramatically yet effectively played with the feedback on his guitar's delay pedals.
He may never live up to John's epic popularity, and indeed it would be nearly impossible for any artist to replicate the Beatles' unparalleled fame. That's no fault of his own. Yet Sean Lennon remains a genuine artist with an interesting and largely underrated perspective. Perhaps his efforts may one day reward him a place in music next to the likes of his father, and not merely by way of a nepotism he never asked for.