Friday, August 05, 2005

Patti Smith Summerstage 2005

4 Aug 2005 Central Park New York NY

The air is hot and thick and if you move too much you'll start sweating all over again. I'd waited in line and now i'm sitting in some bright white folding chairs, almost straight before the center microphone. I look over and see the sun about to dip behind a tall building. When it finally does, there's a breath of cool air and the techs come out to fix up the stage for Janet Hamill & Moving Star, the night's opening act. I've never been to a Patti Smith show before and the woman next to me, Nadia, is telling me the legends and some of the mythology.

There's anticipation in the air, like there always is at a concert. The crowd is of many ages: it probably reflects the general proportions of age groups in the city and the country. There are some people who look like real squares-- some reading the Times Literary Supplement and others discussing health care plans. Some are all the way down the line like the look-at-that-dude & Nadia-taps-her-forearm-dude. Nearby an Indian mother who doesn't seem to know much about Patti Smith seems to be chaperoning her two young Indian-American teens who have convinced her to go. When the ambient music on the speakers shifts from Latin & Salsa instrumentals to an Arabic singer, and the mother and daughters want to know the language (Arabic) we can't help but perceive 21st Century global realities in U.S. Culture set the stage for the post-world-war-II almost-historical music we're about to see.

Twilight is falling and people are looking up just who Janet Hamill is on the program. She's Patti Smith's mentor from the 60s. She's a beat poet who's taken on a backing band. And now she's taken the stage letting us know she's from Goshen NY. One guy in the crowd calls out Goshen as if he's from there. Her drummer, bassist, and guitarist crash into a Credence Clearwater Revival style groove, and Janet jumps into a poem. The way she recites it her voice climbs through each line she recites like she's just gotten up off the rooftops and is reaching for the sky. In fact one refrain is "What is heaven for" if you can't get there in an earthly human way. More than one bird crosses her poems. She calls out to stay up all night and in another refrain she proposes one of the elements of the party should be backyard telescopes trained on the stars. There's a long sea metaphor. Her second poem is an explicit tribute to Jack Kerouac. Now there are billboards twice their normal size dazzlingly alight. And there's people going to and fro under the great Night.

She goes into a third poem. She has a flutist, a guy with white hair working the keyboard like an alchemist making accompanying sounds and scapes. Some members go and an acoustic guitarist comes on. She lays down some rhythm guitar for another poem. Janet plays the harmonica not for harmonies but very frankly and unconcernedly before a final stanza. Nadia and I are listening to the words and we institute a three strike rule. If a word comes along that totally falls flat she gets a strike. "bloody prayer" comes down. Strike One. Three poems later we're wondering how many at-bats she gets. I get a hot-dog and fries. Everyone looks like they have a Stella Artois in hand. Someone opens a Greek dish in a white styrofoam container and all rows around note the delicious smell. When her set closes, we decide she's not perfect, but she's unafraid, uncompromising, and capturing something serious of the poetic traditions.

Paul Schaeffer, word that he's a regular keyboardist on television comes down the row, comes on to announce that Patti will be on soon and that we should all get a refreshment and prepare ourselves. Nadia is seeing lots of people she knows; there's a strong contingent of those who've been on the scene for a long time. Nighttime is fallen and when i look up, the stage-rail has been crowded so that anyone who thought he'd sit near the front has now found that to be an impossibility.

In a flash, her band has taken the stage and have hit into the first song. She's laying the words in with a sharp edge to her voice. She's articulating some of the lines with the hiss of a snake. She's even-handed, balanced, and strong. She's confident in all she sings. In a few lines she's dispelled any doubt and people press toward the stage. She encourages us, too, waving us toward the stage. At points she puts her boot up on the monitor and lays out the line like it means everything, like she's singing to you. Now my ears are glued to everything she says, and eyes to everything she does.

She's got a dip or something spitting every now and then in the middle of the song or between songs. The dude who yelled "Goshen" yells something silly but kind of unintelligible. Patti: "Whut?". No answer. She picks up an acoustic and puts down a rapid-fire rhythm. Between verses she plays face to face with Lenny Kaye, her long time guitarist. He kicks into another gear and does as he feels, friend to the high notes. I wish I knew the words, because with dancing and everything going on I'm missing a lot of them.

Then she says: "I'm going to play an American folk song," drawling out american a little "sing along if you know the words." She opens Like A Rolling Stone a few are singing the verse. When she gets to the refrain every single member of the audience sings loud and clear, and she knows she's opened something in the crowd. She's vehement in her delivery. More and more people are dancing.

Now she points out Jerry Garcia's birthday. It warrants a week of celebration she says. A nine day week. She's rocking the vocals hard. This time the guitarist on the left takes the solo and does well with it. She's dressed in a flannel-shirt sweat-shirt I can't tell what type thing. She's got anyone's jeans and a white shirt. Her 1st decoration are these suede boots she wears that you see prominently when she steps up on the monitor and as she's constantly moving around the stage. She waves to one part of the crowd. She sings to the right. She gets down low and sings to one person in the audience. She curses a photographer who's come to the front to try to get her picture, "Get the Fuck Outta Here" in between verses. She smiles and waves to another part of the crowd. Her only other decoration is a large cross probably 4 inches by 2 inches around her neck. You can really see it when she sings the song, Jesus died for everyone's sins but mine.

She does two other songs many people know, but I don't and then she jumps into Because The Night which i know well. The whole place is rockin' and the people who were all over their cell-phone-camcorders have given it up and are just rocking out too. Each member of the band is awesome, delivering on the instrumentals. Patti dances in Lenny's face as he solos. He takes it out to a rapturous level. Everyone loves it and cheers.

Now she brings up Jerry Garcia again, this time telling a legend that begins "one hot sweaty night in the dog days of August." It's about a boy with sturdy legs and a man tired looking for a place to lay his weary head. She goes back and forth between these characters and raises her voice. Soon she puts here arms out and is looking up at the stage lights as her story and the band have reached some kind of frenzy. She could even be channeling some kind of spirit. She might be channeling Jerry, but more likely, she's getting Jerry to help her channel something else. And from there she breaks into another awesome Rock & Roll song with a real rock and even more roll. People are really dancing to this; new rhythm is coursing through everyone.

Then she goes into a song for all those who've died in the recent "strike and illegal occupation." When the crowd answers strong, she goes into a longer tirade about the things the people in power do and how "they'll do it again and again and again and again" She lays on that again word and we know it. And into a slower song. it starts slow but when we hear her sing the refrain, something like "one day if we're strong enough, maybe, we'll be able to rebuild the peaceful nation." It picks up force.

Now it's getting near the end and when the lights flash off briefly between songs everyone's worried it's already the encore. People seem to want to stay for a long time. She throws in some shout-outs to new york. She introduces her band including the competent bassist and guitarist on the right as her son. Everyone gives an extra cheer for Lenny Kaye. Patti is rushing around the stage as if to make sure she touches each and everyone in the audience before she goes. The last song is over too quickly, and the lights change. I say my good-byes to the people I met and we're released now into the hot August night out through the park into the streets and subways of New York City.

All the songs and everything are all mostly out of order.

6 comments:

farz' said...

patti smith makes me weep and laugh and shout all at the same time ...thank god for you , honey...i love you
farz' in grass lake michigan

p0rn st0rm said...

hey thanks. there were no reviews on the net when i looked so i figured i'd try to tell about it!

Anonymous said...

It was the perfect summer night rock show. A lot of sing alongs and joking, a lot of happy people,
and a lot of blissed out Patti fans.
I hope she's back in NYC soon.

p0rn st0rm said...

heh, "blissed out" is a funny expression and it's right on ... no doubt.

AFW said...

Nice review. Thought you'd like to know the setlist: Summer Cannibals; Beneath the Southern Cross; Ain't It Strange; Like a Rolling Stone; Dancing Barefoot; Peaceable Kingdom; Because the Night; Not Fade Away; People Have the Power; (encore) Gloria

p0rn st0rm said...

yes afw, thanks a lot. i just got my hands on trampin'. i like the song about my blakean year. and the whole album is interesting.