Patti Smith @ Bowery Ballroom Dec. 29th.
Out on the street, Delancey, in front of the club the winter winds were having their way. Playing freeze tag. I had an extra ticket, if you can believe it, but I had to duck into the club a couple of times to warm up before I popped out the second time and found someone in need. After I sold the ticket I went to the corner, Bowery and Delancey to find my son who was meeting me. His cab driver dropped him in a void somewhere. He ended up having to use the GPS on his phone to find the club! Finally we both were able to take advantage of the wind free venue.
I led us up to the mezzanine level because the orchestra level was packed. Upstairs we found a decent spot where we could see and be close to the bar. The sold out room was buzzing. Patti hit the stage along with Lenny Kaye, guitar(he played bass too), Jay Dee Dougherty, drums. On bass and keyboards, Tony Shanahan, plus Jackson Smith, playing hot on guitar. Backing vocals by all.
I’ve searched for the setlist but it is not out there yet. So I do not know the titles of all her songs that she played but I know somethings. First song was classic Patti, rough and rumble, setting us up for a great night. A couple songs later this long ago familiar melody comes achingly at us like a forgotten rock n roll dream. It’s the Beatles,’ George Harrison’s, more precisely, “Within You, Without You.” What magic Patti is able to create. But magic is fleeting and somewhere in there she went up on the lyric. Still it was an inspired choice and our beloved sorceress commanded our attention.
But wait. Turns out the between song shenanigans are a lot more memorable than the music. For instance during one break she hears her phone go off (I’m not sure why she had it on stage) and tells us it’s a text message from Michael Stipe who is in Greece. He is wishing her a happy birthday and good wishes for her Bowery Ballroom shows. Patti informs us that her birthday is today December 30th. She says the funny thing about her birthday is that she usually comes down with something. It wasn’t bothering her now, she said, but I’m thinking it still was. The band did a tribute to the late Vic Chestnut who just died on Christmas day and Patti went offstage for that. At some other interval she clues us in that this show on the 29th was the last one added. She called it ‘the dregs’ show. Remember, those were her words. Actually I could tell that none of us cared that we were the dregs so long as Patti redeemed us. To be fair she said that the dregs performance was the one where the band decided which tunes fly and which crash so they could make the proper adjustments for the next two shows.
I’m blaming the lack of fire on her part to her ‘bug’ or whatever it was. She was offstage for another song or two. She was lighting matches all over the place but perhaps some of those winter winds should have been let in so as to fan those flames higher and higher. “Because the Night” yeah, that’ll do it! Well, not exactly. That damn fleeting magic which I believe few artists are in touch with was even elusive for a shamaness such as Patti Smith; sometimes the damn rabbit will simply not come out of the hat.
Then the show is over and we are anticipating her encore. Could it be “Gloria” or pretty please “Rock N Roll Nigger!” We know you can send us out into the cold with a fire in our hearts, right, Patti.?!
No. The encore is the O’Jays’ “Love Train!” A nice message but this song is not rock. It is not Patti Smith.
What is it? To borrow from another time, ‘a bummer.’ My heart grew cold as the winds on Delancey street. In a puff of smokeless smoke she had vanished.
I’m also totally bummed that I can not experience the next two shows. The ‘non dreg’ performances. What songs are added, which ones taken away? I will always be convinced that she is a wizard of the highest order and I know proof of that would be to say farewell to the Love Train. Thanks, Patti.