On a giant screen, John Lennon and Yoko Ono walk through a chilly Central Park, as the ex-Beatle ruminates over their just-released collaborative album Double Fantasy. "It's love and a lot of sweat and the life experience of two people," he surmises. Twelve days later, Lennon was killed and Double Fantasy transformed from a poorly received comeback into a chart-topping, hit-spawning, Grammy-winning last testament. Now, in the last gig of Ono's Meltdown festival, the album is being played live for the first time – and as a backing band and the 18-strong Sense of Sound choir take to the stage, expectation is high.

Subtitled A Heart Play, Double Fantasy is a curious mix of mature love songs, whimsical nods to the past and Ono's defiantly aggressive paeans to the new wave of rock that was rolling in when the album was recorded in 1980. But with the 80-year-old ensconced in the Royal Box, it's up to a series of guests to bring the album to life, with decidely mixed results.

Singer-songwriter Pete Molinari opens with a passable Lennon impression on (Just Like) Starting Over, and Peaches, wearing a sparkly silver leotard and matching thigh-high boots, wallows in the overt sweetness and outright aggression of Ono's Kiss Kiss Kiss. But, following a barely audible Boy George and pantomime-bonkers Lene Lovich, it's cabaret star Camille O'Sullivan who rescues the momentum with I'm Losing You, her impressive voice wringing out every ounce of regret and resentment from Lennon's lyrics.

The same can't be said for Patrick Wolf, who looks ill at ease on Watching the Wheels and turns Ono's brooding Beautiful Boys into an overblown Broadway torch number. Leftfield chanteuse and sitar player Bishi falters, too, before joining Lovich, O'Sullivan and Peaches for I'm No Angel. The quartet sound like a chorus of cats and the 1930s pastiche exposes Double Fantasy's conflicting styles and confused heart.

But there are moments of genuine magic. Patti Smith, joined by Wolf on harp, caresses the words of the lullaby Beautiful Boy as if singing to her own son; a video of Lennon playing Dear Yoko on an acoustic guitar in April 1980 is a reminder of what was really lost that night in December. And just as the gig seems to have flat-lined, the spectacular Siouxsie gives it the kiss of life with an exuberant encore of Walking on Thin Ice. Joined by a very bouncy Ono, it's a happy end to a strange and sadly mediocre night.

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Contributor

Betty Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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