“He’s got sensitive eyes,” said a man in fingerless leather gloves into his walkie-talkie. The black-clad, tattooed security guard at Bowery Ballroom last night wasn’t having a sentimental moment. He was answering a colleague’s question: How strictly should the no-flash-photography rule be enforced? Very strictly, it turned out. But despite the guards’ best and sometimes brusque efforts, Sean Lennon’s concert was all flash photography. For reasons that have nothing to do with — and are perhaps unfair to — him, Sean’s shows have an invariable tinge of a get-photographed-with-Santa session (or, as it were, Son of Santa). His curse is that he looks less like a child of John and Yoko than like an “If They Mated” Photoshop job — even, or especially, with the current wild-man beard.
The music, a rather British kind of sunshine pop with touches of Brian Wilson, came mostly from Sean’s new album, Friendly Fire, supposedly inspired by a relationship with Bijou Philips. Indeed, “The next song is about how love is like falling out of an airplane without a parachute” was the evening’s typical introduction. The singer’s longtime paramour, Yuka Honda, smiled from behind the classic singer’s-girlfriend perch: the keyboard stand.
The hour-long set met an enthusiastic crowd (hipster types in well-cut coats and a sprinkling of wistful baby-boomers). Lennon’s voice was in tremendous shape, a clear, glassy, vibrato-less tenor that easily rose into sweet falsetto as needed. The songs ran to polite mid-tempo. It was all as pleasant as it gets, and as innocuous. The enormity of the elephant in the room came into awkward relief only once, when people started shouting out names of neighborhoods and Sean allowed himself an oblique reference to being the World’s Most Famous Rocker Who Still Lives With His Mom. “I’m from the Upper West Side,” he said. The crowd went nuts. —Michael Idov