Patti Smith

An evening of Poetry and Music in Memory of Todd Pollard Smith

Philadelphia, PA
TLA, 334 South St. November 24, 25 (3 perfs.)
[Contents copyright (c) 1995 - Anthony Rzepela]

As part of Patti Smith's larger, strategic, comeback plan, this Philadelphia stop seems almost an afterthought. After this, there are only a few shows opening for Bob Dylan (with full band on the East Coast) before she goes back to really finish a still-untitled album due in March. She has been putting on performances of every configuration and stripe for six months now, and she's even been doing the "visiting superstar" thing, popping up onstage with REM on some of their US shows.

Still, this location is a convenient one if you're back East visiting relations and old friends, and in Patti's case they all live in South Jersey. In attendance at the first show were Patti's children, her mother (and her mother's "Jehovah's Witness friends", according to an aside in show 2) and us - the audience, (hopefully) the old friends. But with Patti, you never know. And indeed, by the third show, her patience (with what it was unclear - at various times she excoriated family get-togethers, a vaginal itch, and us in the audience) was paper-thin.

Billed as a tribute to her lone brother (a pivotal force in the touring/working machine that was the Patti Smith Group in the 70s, dead less than a year and born in Philadelphia in 1949) the shows combined poetry readings and acoustic performances, straying slightly from the format of the small shows she's presented during the year: they now feature the talents of Tony Shanahan, who plays bass for her full-tilt rock performances these days, and accompanies here on bass and guitar.

Unlike some previous performances, this show had a solo spot for two songs performed by her sister Kimberly, who also provided additional accompaniment for the encores. For show 2, Patti coaxed a solo Elvis chestnut out of Tony (we had to promise not to look). For the third show, sometime collaborator Oliver Ray joined to accompany "About a Boy", a new tribute to Kurt Cobain; "Walkin' Blind", which will appear on the soundtrack to the upcoming Tim Robbins film; and a rewrite (with Robert Hunter's blessing) of "Black Peter". (Oliver was an unknown entity to me. He was disarmingly charming, and somewhat bizarre. He requested (and got) some quick spiritual fortification in the form of the "Lord's Prayer", which Patti later referred to, with all seriousness, as "powerful", and took his time in the spotlight to tell the tired "Berry Garcia" joke. He looks about 17 years of age.)

Poetry readings were exclusively from "Early Works" for shows 1 and 3. Show 2 included a little more variety and spice: "Middy", a story dedicated to Richard Sohl, was read, as well as "cowboy truths" from 1992's "Woolgathering". Unable to perform "piss factory" in front of Mom and the Witnesses, we finally heard it when they were gone. Aired once over the engagement: "rape", "babelfield", "florence", "ps/alm 23 revisited" and "death by water". Shorter pieces like "december" and "dylan's dog" were in the set each night. "piss factory" and "land (version)" were read twice.

As could be expected, she was charming, funny, in fine voice, confident, and relaxed. In the middle of "ballad of a bad boy", she let loose with a huge belch at a particularly inopportune time, then interrupted herself to tell us of her adventures in getting a taste of Philadelphia cuisine in her dressing room between shows, and how she _knew_ she should have let half the cheesesteak sit there. As was the case with just about any topic that came up in the banter between pieces, Patti was able to take it and run with it, always with the honesty, humour, and spontaneity she's famous and loved for. At the other end of the charm spectrum (in the "acquired taste" end) she answered the repeated shouts for "space monkey" with a perfect a capella delivery of the first verse, capped with a flat "et cetera": a perfect example of the impatience and temperament she is also known for, but without which she would probably have little to hang her hat on artistically.

Dylan was an unseen force all over. Patti broke into the opening verse of "Young at Heart" ("Dreams can come true, it can happen to youuuu...") to express her excitement at the upcoming concert engagements with His Bobness, and in the second show, coyly suggested with a huge grin that she now had "Dylan's ear" on occasion when a fan suggested Dylan augment her keyboard-less band lineup. Her willingness to talk about Dylan served as an inadvertent personality gauge: she devolved from a detailed description of her lineup and a funny Dylan story during show 1 to some perfunctory remarks during show 2 to nada on Saturday, even after some prodding from the audience; even though "dog dream" was still in the set.

For the music portion of the show, all three performances included old favorites "Dancing Barefoot", "Because the Night" and "People Have the Power". Covers of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" and the Dead's "Black Peter" were staples. Also delivered over the course of the engagement were Dylan's "Dark Eyes", "Paths That Cross", "Ghost Dance", and, despite a last-minute plea (an offer of a dollar) from her 13-year-old son Jackson, who Patti lamented was too cool now to have a song dedicated to him, "The Jackson Song" from 1988's "Dream of Life".

Patti's arena rock tendencies are slowly worming their way back into her limbs and finding their niches. Despite this (and other excesses, such as being easily diverted to the maudlin), the sheer force of her vision, enthusiasm, energy, charisma, honesty, rage, musical instinct and raw talent just suck you in in every way possible.

It's Patti. And she's back.

Big time.

+-- Anthony J. Rzepela --------------------- rzepela@[CENSORED  June 1996 ] --+
  "After fourteen years, you wanna know if I can spell 'Gloria'?
   G-L-O-R-I-A. That's it. That's all you're gonna get."      -- Patti Smith
+-------------------------------------------------------- Central Park 1993 --+

Copyright © Anthony J. Rzepela 1995

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