Poor Sean Lennon was up against it. Beneath him boomed the exuberant strains of a dance-music-based drag show at Club Marcella. Down the street, the Pussycat Dolls were plying their third-hand dance-pop wares at Shea's. Lennon's show turned into a battle between the schlocky and transient and the crafted and melodic. Lennon won, whether anyone knew it or not.
Those patrons filling the Tralf on Sunday made the right choice. They were rewarded with an evening of splendid pop music, offered in a low-key fashion by the most famous son in the world and his outstanding band.
After dedicating the evening's show to "my friend Vinnie Gallo, Buffalo's greatest" -- we know Gallo, Lennon's pal in New York, put him up to it! -- Lennon made it clear he's his own man with a wonderful set culled from his latest (and by far best) album, "Friendly Fire." Yes, he's John Lennon's son, and, yes, it's impossible to erase that connection from your mind while watching him perform. But this Lennon has gone to great lengths to prove his own worth, and Sunday, he let his songs speak for themselves. They were well-spoken.
"Friendly Fire" is Sean's first brilliant album. Anyone looking to compare it to a John Lennon album would be both wrong and far wide of the mark, however. Yes, Sean is playing the melodic, well-crafted, intelligent pop music his father had a serious hand in creating. But in truth, though he looks a lot like his father, and sounds a bit like him, too, Lennon is creating a brand of ethereal pop in line with the work of the Pernice Brothers, Beck, (circa "Sea Change") Badfinger, and the most melodic Radiohead. Not that he's ripped any of these folks off. Rather, he's made it apparent that he's a modern rock artist, not a writer interested in trading off his name.
Lennon opened with a beautiful "Spectacle," his low-key vocal -- which stayed remarkably in-tune throughout the show -- finding support from a nice bit of slide guitar work. "Dead Meat" followed, and the well-orchestrated nature of the studio version was represented aptly live, the trancelike waltz complementing Lennon's gorgeous falsetto.
"Parachute" may be Lennon's finest moment as a writer, its impossible-to-deny chorus hook proving indelible by the time he offered it once. What a killer melody. "Wait For Me" is a somber tune, but again, Lennon has become great at making the investment in the tune worth the listener's while. Like so many of "Friendly Fire's" songs, this one has an interesting, smart chord progression.
Lennon has proven himself to be a strong songwriter. His music is haunting and stands on its own two legs. We'll be hearing much more from him.