Music Writing by Carson Arnold
back to H(ear) mainpage Related review: PATTI SMITH: THE ART OF TRAMPIN' DON'T DIE UNTIL YOU CATCH PATTI SMITH LIVE Pearl Street Nightclub/Northampton, MA/June 3rd, 04 (Patti at theWarsaw club in Brooklyn May '04. Photo by Deborah Olin: DO11214@aol.com. Copyright Deborah Olin 2004)
What's the worst that can happen at a rock concert? Let's see, getting stood up, the band's late, someone spills beer all over you, and let's not forget the club burning down. Yeah, those are always pretty bad.
How about Patti Smith looking at you like you're a complete loser? Given the demography of her following, I'm willing to bet this cancels out all four of those previous situations, simply because they're circumstances of straight-up bad luck-- having Patti Smith look at you like a square's square is, well, pretty embarrassing.
I quickly learned this the other night at Pearl Street, a small Northampton, MA club capturing the gritty NYC bill with its five-hundred capacity ballroom. I stood, one of the only two guys in the front row, pressed against the stage, close enough to untie (tie) Patti's shoes as she stood directly over, slamming the second chorus home in "People Have The Power," everyone pumping their fists in full action. For whatever reason, perhaps because I consider it both a weight-lifting anthem as well as a reminder that "don't forget you got power," I've always had trouble with the sound of this song, and even in the rebellion, just stood there like I was waiting for a train. Patti, invariably spitting on the stage's oriental carpet, took four seconds to stare down at me and shook her head laughing. Why aren't you hip, kid?
I just smiled back, and for the remainder of the night (week) faced a serious personality crisis (no shit, you know you're in trouble when one of yr heroes balks at you. How's that happen?!).
But I'm over it (with a little help from my friends). The two-hour set was terrific, and although I was practically close enough to hear the natural sounds of the instruments rather than the PA, it was a gift to anyone who waited in the rain earlier for the doors to open. Patti Smith has it all it seems. In these divisive, hi-tech ages, she stands as a fighter. Not a grumpy troubadour as most of her peers seem to be induced with, but rather fueled with youth and an infectious wisdom. Just listen to her latest album Trampin' and tell me you don't hear the crossings of a visionary, never mind an evolution. Peace prophet. Punk exorcist. The meditative poet/singer. The capability to be beautiful, harsh, dissonant, and a consistent advocate all in the same verse. Got something better?
Judging from the audience that night, mostly adults or grad-students in Undertones T-shirts (the opposite when I covered a Static-X show there eight months before, loaded with today's boys & girls), they were yearning a little Horses-era overdrive (ignored shouts to the stage: Hurry up, this isn't a yuppie show!-- Give us 1979!). That medicine (which it is, by far) arrived during the encore, hitting the riveting dynamite of "Free Money" and of course the undeniable explosion of "Gloria." Playing nearly every song off Trampin' except "Radio Baghdad" (substituted by the wrath of "Gandhi"), the full moon marked their first tour date as well as Allen Ginsberg's birthday, commemorated by an electrifying performance of "Spell," reading from Howl with his picture on a screen/light-show behind them (soon tossing the book behind her and nearly missing Jay Dee Daugherty's head). You bet she pulled out that clarinet to finish the job.
Seeing this, I sensed the girl I had originally invited to the show (never happened; didn't know much about Patti) would stare in horror, so I looked around me and found many women were in tears to "Mother Rose," visualized by a picture of Patti's mom in the background. It's a fact, if not an equation, that Lenny Kaye's continuing presence is a key curator to Patti's existence, as both he and Tony Shanahan (her new band, by the way, easily the tightest rock experience going since mid-90s Dylan said they wanted to jolt America apart) trading off multi-instrumental modes, Patti even wailing the electric guitar and breaking some noise.
You don't have to run far to hear this on the crystal-clear "Cash" (my favorite) and "Beneath The Southern Cross," Tony taking place of Jeff Buckley's sailing voice. Every now and then, Patti would take a few minutes and talk to the audience, pulling out a packet of Spaniard sugar from her ripped coat, asking for a band-aid after cutting her fingers from guitar (indeed, a doctor was in the house...at a punk show though? interesting...), sharing where she'd eaten, and enlightening everyone how people blame her for endorsing Ralph Nader, but seeing that millions didn't vote in the last election those zeros better punt a new ball this time 'round (a Nader ballot is a waste no matter how we see it, and won't change until our culture does, e.g. when a Patti Smith show becomes real life and not an entertainment, which as I see it, is her main objective).
One confession before I go: I hardly remember any of it. Lasting images: Lenny Kaye's Andy Warhol T-shirt and Patti briefly stepping off the stage and into the crowd. And the last time I checked, she was still there.
(photo by Yoshie; courtesy of Columbia Records)
--Carson Arnold - June 8th, 2004 Related review: PATTI SMITH: THE ART OF TRAMPIN' copyright 2004 Carson Arnold
H(ear) is an online music column consisting of interviews, articles, and investigations written by Carson Arnold. As a freelance writer for various magazines and liner notes, living in the woods of Vermont with his family, Carson widely encourages one to submit their art, writing or any interesting piece of material that you would like to share. H(ear) is accepting both promos and demos for review or any other valuable music-related subjects. If you wish to make a comment or would like to receive H(ear) weekly by email please contact Carson at firstname.lastname@example.org
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