Bob Dylan/Patti Smith: Stabler Arena Bethlehem, PA Dec. 13, 1995 I guess the most remarkable thing about the performance last night was the sparse attendance. Anyone claiming more than 2,000 paying customers is telling you a lie. The top 9 rows on the back and sides of the arena were empty, and the "yellow" section was only half-occupied. The floor is only 24 rows of 32 seats each, and there was more than just standing room there, too. Everyone seemed to be running late - a long line of waiting patrons was beginning to snake around the building at sub-freezing temps, but at 7:00, the doors were still locked, and Patti was running through "Not Fade Away" and quick snippets of other tunes. Patti was off by 8:50, but there was so much dead air that her set was only 7 songs. (Two electric up front and at the back, as opposed to the standard three, and there was no "Because the Night" or "PHTP"). Her cold was evident, despite really valiant efforts by Patti to make sure that it didn't show. I actually felt guilty during "Dark Eyes", as she was obviously struggling and hoping that she wouldn't crack. To put illness on top of this inhumane schedule (now ONE day off in 11) just made me feel slimy for being a part of it, even as a lowly paying customer. Patti had her appreciators. Many wild and enthusiastic whoops could be heard, many "We love you"s, a few "We missed you"s - but it was an audience (and atmosphere) that seemed to discourage wild abandon in expressing one's appreciation. Still, the most enthusiastic overall appreciation came for the reminders of Dylan (the opener, "Wicked Messenger") and the Dead ("Not Fade Away") and it wasn't enough to get an encore. It was Patti's exit after "Dark Eyes" in Dylan's set that got people to actually show some lovin' - a sudden rush of mad (mostly female) fans running up to the front of the wide floor aisles just to say "Hi" or cheer her on. (You'd think it was a rush of Green Day moshers the way security swooped down, but I digress. This coincided with that moment in BobShows where he allows the aisles to be occupied, so little damage was done. Dylan's gentle coaching on lyrics she was forgetting was probably the single most touching thing I've ever seen on stage.) Patti's efforts were valiant. She started off her set by detailing her own "roots" in the area (her grandfather was a steel mill foreman, her father born in Bethlehem) and she was funny, sharp, and focused. It will be difficult to imagine her without Verlaine from now on, as his additions were just stunning. She referred to Jay Dee as the only drummer she'd ever had, and said she could only forgive those who didn't know his name if they had been living in a cave. Given the weather, the schedule, her cold, and a half-filled auditorium of people, many of whom were somehow able to sustain that awful "Deadspin" dance through every Dylan song, regardless of tempo or tune, the enthusiasm and effort she showed obviously were summoned up from someplace deep inside. It's a shame there weren't better conditions for it to feed out and back. ++Tony
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