Live Peace in Toronto (1969)
Live Peace in Toronto 1969 is the perfect summary of John Lennon’s career — the musical influences of his past, the current ruminations of his self-indulgence, and the future of his relationship with Yoko Ono. It showcases the inspiration that transformed him musically and personally in the two most intense periods of life — at the birth of the Beatles and the rebirth of John Lennon. Taking place at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival, this was the first Lennon appearance post-Beatles’ recording of what would become Abbey Road. This gave him a chance to really express what had been in the works during the lo-fi offerings of the Unfinished Music recordings with Yoko, as well as explore the ruminations of his youthful inspirations.
Every man has his roots, and Lennon presented him when selecting the first four tracks on the recording, renditions of ’50s rock ‘n’ roll and early Beatles’ era covers such as “Money” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” — something all the members of the band (Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann, Alan White) could feel comfortable banging out after little to no rehearsal behind a nerve-stricken Lennon. Exploding out of the gate with a cover of “Blue Suede Shoes”, and continuing through a barrage of familiar tunes, Lennon knew very few of the original lyrics to any of the songs he presented throughout the evening. Thanks to an explosive backing band that drove him to recreate lyrics and burst through with unforgettable choruses, Live Peace became truly extraordinary documentation of Lennon’s fervor and showmanship.
In between the classics and the commotion are possibly the most revered and talked about songs of the evening: the debut of a stripped-down, fuzz-ridden “Cold Turkey” and the communal sing-a-long of “Give Peace a Chance”. Before the crowd outrage and bottle-throwing at Yoko, the audience got their first glance at what was the most accurate representation of Lennon’s near future — a forever advocate of peace, yet a turmoiled individual full of doubt — a set of polar opposites he would battle lyrically and emotionally for the duration of his solo career.
Frankly, don’t bother throwing in your two cents about Yoko’s presence in John’s career. She preserved a beast in Lennon that led him to further his notions of songwriting, noise, and the combination of the two. Instead of looking upon feedback as an error, Lennon welcomes it gladly on Live Peace with a barnburner of a track (“Don’t Worry Kyoko”) reminiscent of the fury of guitar mangler Ron Asheton fronted by the banshee wailing of Ono. Forty years removed from the scene, it’s still a challenge to put much wear on side B.
Still, it warrants a hefty gratification from intense listens — specifically on the feedback ridden “John, John (Let’s Hope for Peace)”, where there are these beautiful moments of dissonance that reach bliss when Ono’s vocal meets the same frequency as the guitars. The audience reaction there was said to be less than responsive to such moments. However, in response, the band left their guitars lying against their amps as they left the stage, still providing immense amounts of droning feedback as John switched them off one by one, and Yoko wailed into the microphone. Heavy stuff for 1969.
Live Peace in Toronto 1969 is an album known for its A-side, but really packs a punch in its sonic exploration on the B-side. Many choose to ignore these journeys in Lennon’s career, blaming Ono for the infamous “breakup of the Beatles”. However, if there was more time spent listening and less time spent criticizing, the ambition on these recordings would speak for themselves. As the free-jazz forefather, Ornette Coleman once said, “Don’t follow the sound, follow the idea.” That’s a simple concept that would open the avant-garde era Lennon recordings to a new world of listeners. — John Bohannon