Review: Yoko Ono Snarls With DJ Spooky, Moore At Bell Atlantic Fest

Headliner Stereolab disappointing in outdoor Battery Park show.

NEW YORK — The electrical storm that iced most of Friday night's performances at the Bell Atlantic Jazz Festival in Battery Park was reinvented on the outdoor stage Saturday night.

Under a perfect blue sky, jazz revelers, party-goers and curious pop fans came out in droves to see Stereolab and an opening set of Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Yoko Ono and DJ Spooky. Fans were treated to respectively experimental sets. The first was awe-inspiring; the second fell somewhat flat.

The intriguing combination of Ono, Moore and DJ Spooky provided the most spark, with Sonic Youth's signature dissonance on display during an introspective, experimental set. Ono's vibrant vocal snarls brooded above DJ Spooky's funk-laden beats, ambient washes and the enjoyably distorted fret work of Moore. With a bottle of Poland Springs water and a drumstick tucked into his front pocket, Moore was the clear crowd favorite, exploring the boundaries of noise fusion and frequently coming to the edge of the stage to get close to the audience.

During particularly frenetic moments, the estimated 5,000 park listeners fell silent as the trio created transient turns within its exploratory pieces.

"Everybody got quiet," DJ Spooky fan Danny Fox, 23, said of the set. "The dissonance overcame everybody, I think."

After the set, Moore said, "Everybody was really down. They were just rockin', into it."

London sextet Stereolab, the brazen purveyors of modern pop-influenced electronica, followed with an energetic but slightly uninspired hourlong set that was early on plagued by technical problems. After two concise opening numbers, the group informed the crowd there would be a five-minute delay because of sound problems involving the stage power source. This was another headache for the producers of Bell Atlantic shows at Battery Park — saxophonist Ornette Coleman's opening show there Thursday was marred by street construction noise.

Stereolab, Stateside as part of a U.S. tour, drew heavily from material from their recent Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night album, which contains the tune "Spiracles" (RealAudio excerpt). Also tapping their EP The First of the Microbe Hunters, Stereolab kept their sonic journeys on a short leash early in the set. It wasn't until the sun had fully set across New York Harbor that the group expanded the radio-edit planks into vehicles for open-ended soundscapes.

"The [vibe] was very cool," said Stereolab keyboardist Margane Lhote after the set. "... [The crowd] loved us."

The groove-hungry New York crowd appreciated getting a dose, albeit a brief one, of the clublike French disco beats that Stereolab played in the latter part of their set.

Backstage, the talk centered on Moore and DJ Spooky, whose eye-opening performance eclipsed that of Stereolab and drew the raves of guitarist-producer Arto Lindsay, Sonic Youth singer Kim Gordon, Ono's son Sean Lennon and the festival staff.

"Thurston's background is, you know, the '80s experimental rock stuff, and of course Yoko, and I'm into the '60s sh--," DJ Spooky explained. "We just wanted to get it out there."