It is mere coincidence that my last post was a quick review of Patti Smith’s debut album, Horses. As I was perusing last Friday’s Tacoma News Tribune, I noticed that Patti Smith was coming to town together with original guitarist Lenny Kaye and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty. Their tour was to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Horses. I was primed. I called my son Pat and asked if he wanted to go, and it was as simple as that.
Well almost that simple. I’m home from school for most of this week taking care of my wife after rotator cuff surgery December 30th. But with an eight o’clock doctor’s appointment this morning, I took the risk of the long late night anyway, and drove with Pat up to the Moore.
Just a quick word about the venue. For those who don’t know the Moore is an old, smaller venue that has a certain amount of intimacy. It was widely used back in the glory days of grunge. I believe Pearl Jam had their first gig there less than a week after officially forming. Unfortunately, finding out about the show late, I had to take tickets up in the general admission balcony, so we were a ways from the action, but a solid view of the stage.
Neither Pat or myself had a clear idea of what to expect. Both us like the punk music that came out of New York in the middle 70’s and it’s a point of pride that we saw the Ramones at Bumbershoot in 1995ish. We’d both listened to Horses recently, and were familiar with that record, and I’d also listened to Easter and Wave, but it had been some time.
I couldn’t have been more pleased with the Patti Smith experience, ca. 2016. Smith celebrated her 69th birthday on stage the night before our show, and I can only hope I can be as wonderfully energetic and engaged as she was. She had an easy manner and banter with the audience and her band. Smith sang easily and clearly, and she demonstrated a beautiful voice she sometimes hid on her records. She moved easily and danced around the stage. It was clear she drew energy from the sold out, multi-generation crowd. She was Patti Smith, the punk high priestess, but also Patti the poet, and Patti the survivor.
Beginning with the liner notes the band played through both sides of Horses, starting with a rousing rendition of “Gloria.” All of the songs that followed were superb-“Redondo Beach,” “Birdland,” “Free Money,” “Kimberly,” and “Break It Up” all quite good, and all receiving the personal attention of Smith and her bandmates. But somehow when Smith got to the epic “Land” she seemed to turn it up notch, mixing verse with song in a song mindful of Jim Morrison’s best.
But the real treat was “Elegie.” It’s a short song written with Allen Lanier of Blue Oyster Cult to memorialize the passing of Jimi Hendrix. She dedicated it those lost-including Hendrix, Lanier, Janis Joplin, all of the departed Ramones, Kurt Cobain (of course-it’s Seattle,) the artist and friend Robert Mapplethorpe, and her husband Fred “Sonic” Smith, as well as our missing furry friends whom she acknowledged were as much like family. It was beautiful and haunting and had so much more meaning as it amplified Smith’s experience as one of grief and loss.
But the show didn’t stop with the conclusion of the record. After a brief interlude, two songs, dedicated to the Velvet Underground, the band launched into a collection of Smith favorites. I loved “Dancing Barefoot,” from Wave, and Springsteeen’s “Because the Night” from Easter.
The later the night went the more at ease Smith seemed to be. The language got rougher, attacks on corporate America increased, and the more the crowd seemed to appreciate her call for social change and revolution. The encore was, surprisingly, The Who’s “My Generation” which was performed with a ferocity and the last lingering message that perhaps rock and roll can change the world.
I don’t think that anymore. But I do believe that for a moment I could not imagine a better place to be than listening to a 69 year old artist sing songs from the 70’s with a message of hope and love to the audience.