people have the power

IMG_0041[patti smith and band, bowery ballroom, 12.31.08]

“Doesn’t Lenny look handsome tonight?” Patti asked us as the band took the stage. “I told him he looked like he rolled Charlie Parker.”

Despite excellent energy and potential, this show was not as solid as the previous evening. Patti was clearly having monitor trouble, couldn’t hear herself, said her guitar sound was bad, was constantly motioning at the monitor engineer all night. The sibling hijinks (aided and abetted by Tony) got to her a little bit as well, and there were times where everyone was decidedly not in sync. I couldn’t tell if she was not in tune with them or vice versa, but there were multiple times during the night where she let the band keep playing while she stalked the stage in small circles, clearly trying to regain focus, like a pitcher in a jam who keeps stepping off the mound to adjust his hat or to pick up the rosin bag repeatedly. It wasn’t out of lack of caring or attention, however, so you were rooting for her, for them, to find the place she wanted to be and pull it through in the end.

And, sometimes, it worked. Despite the preface about needing the lyrics and how she’d fucked it up the previous nights (before discarding the book and her glasses), “Revenge” remained a highlight, and she tossed the words off with confidence and the right attitude. “Ain’t It Strange” once again found that intense, primal energy from the previous evening. It was astonishing, riveting, affirming. Is it fair for me to think “thank god she can still do this?” Is it fair to be surprised that she still can? Is it fair for me to want her to not lose this, ever?

The poetry reading, however, was just not going to be on tonight: there were too many yahoos who used that time to yell song requests. I just do not, DO NOT, get this: you’re coming to see *Patti Smith* but yet you think it is perfectly fine and proper to derail what would be, what, 60 seconds of spoken word with your inane requests for “Space Monkey”? I cannot comprehend such an essential disconnect between artist and fan.

Midnight, and we were tooting horns and throwing confetti (courtesy well-prepared fans) and trying to sing “Auld Lang Syne” and then, what should have been obvious to me (and apparently was to everyone else), those drum rolls from Jay Dee brought us into the best, the most perfect opener to a year: “People Have The Power.” PHTP has so many levels of significance for me over the years, in decidedly non-Patti contexts, and tonight, added another. Maybe it was obvious, maybe it was a gimme, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t perfect and special and ideal and deeply meaningful.

[Warning: this is largely “Caryn Sings The Hits of Patti Smith Live At Bowery Ballroom,” but it does capture the moment, and the moment was well worth capturing]

The boyfriend was along tonight. He was astonished that she needed the words to “Reach Out,” although he was excited to hear it. Unfortunately, the song petered out precisely because its performance requires a virtual libretto to be taped to the mic stand. She lost her place, and (as she’d explain in a bit) at that point she just ran out of juice. (Apparently it was very hot and humid up on the stage and it was clearly sapping her energy.) However, she made up for it in short order – announcing that, since they had to clear the room very soon (for the Amanda Palmer late show), they weren’t going to go offstage and make us go through the encore applause charade. And, instead, the guitar wailed and the drums rattled and she grabbed the Palestinian flag off of her amp (another post, another time, gentle readers), draped it around her shoulders, and shouted:

I haven’t fucked much with the past, but I’ve fucked plenty with the future…

Confirming what everyone down front already knew the last song was going to be. The heat, the dropped lyrics, the boneheaded crowd, all of this forgotten, as we bounced up and down to “Rock and Roll Nigger”. Obama got namechecked, and it was fine and mildly anarchic and certainly cathartic, a fine chaser to three nights. (I will note that I still can’t sing the last line of the last verse, even after all these years.)

Just when we were being ushered out by security, she appeared one more time in a top hat, courtesy Steven Sebring, who bought it for her and then she forgot to wear it. A ceremonial doffing of the hat for her friend, and we were done. Out into the dark and cold where the fact that we found a cab to take us home to Brooklyn was yet another sign that 2009 was going to be quite all right.