Posted Tuesday, Jan. 9, 8:21 p.m.
When you are the son of the most influential musician of the 20th Century (or ever), it has got to be hard to measure up to expectations. These expectations, of course, are far from fair or even reasonable, but no matter how hard you try, the similarities between Sean Lennon and his father – that’s John Lennon for those of you who didn’t get the “most influential musician ever” bit – are too striking to ignore. This is not to say that Sean Lennon is close to or even half of the musical genius that the senior Lennon was, but he does at least have a decent amount of talent.
Still, try as I might, when I went to The Birchmere in Alexandria on Sunday, December 17, to see 31-year-old Sean Lennon perform selections from his latest album, “Friendly Fire,” I was simply unable to shake my bias. “Just forget it…he’s not John, and you can’t actually expect him to be,” I repeated to myself while listening to the album on the way to the concert. So, when reading what follows, please consider that I did my best to keep an open mind, but at times I gave in to the dark side and could only compare Mr. Lennon to his father and the band that changed the world.
As I sat in the back of the packed music-hall/restaurant that is The Birchmere, waiting for Sean Lennon to take the stage, I couldn’t help but hope that within minutes I would be hearing John Lennon’s son play a Beatles’ song. Sure, he denied even the remote possibility of that happening in the months leading up to this tour, but I still held on.
Even when Lennon took the stage in his vintage suit and bowler hat, donning a beard and glasses that reeked of his father, I held out hope for a surprise Beatles opener. Needless to say, it’s not what I heard…but what I heard was not at all disappointing. Opening with the new album’s title (and best) track, “Friendly Fire,” Lennon let everyone in the place know that he was there to play his own music.
On the whole this album, his second, is a mature blend of poetic lyrics, flowing catchy melodies, and top-notch production. The show was delivered and received in much the same way as the album. There were moments, mostly during his falsettos and “yeas,” that I could have sworn he was channeling his father’s spirit.
By and large, though, he displayed his talent as his own, with the senior Lennon having no more of an influence than he does on every other musician out there…aside from the fact that they look and sound alike. After the opener, the rest of the show went very smoothly for Lennon and his four band members. A few songs were boring and predictable, a few sounded just like the others, but the quality of the musicianship made up for these faults. During “Dead Meat,” another one from Friendly Fire, the guitar solo was perfectly matched by a synth-orchestra and Lennon’s falsetto harmonies to create a rich, emotional sound.
At other times, like during an extended version of “Falling Out of Love,” Lennon experimented with some dissonance, which added a whole other dimension to the band’s sound. More variety like this would add to Lennon’s music immensely, both in the studio and on stage. With an amicable personality, a talented band, and real musical talent, there is really no doubt that Sean Lennon has a future in music…as long as he continues to fight for his independence from people like me.