review of 3/18/96 concert, warfield theatre, san francisco

      by mark faigenbaum

It's been 20 years and 9 days since I first saw Patti. When I saw her in 1976 she threw herself around the stage like there would most likely be no tomorrow. Her energy was amazing and nearly out of control.

Tonite she did what I did not think was possible. She captured the same raw intensity as 20 years ago, and it was amazing, but this time safely within her control.

She opened with a powerful reading of "Piss Factory" that recieved a standing ovation and followed it with a lackluster reading of her poem "Land (version)." Oliver Ray came out and strummed some chords as Patti read a new prose piece called "Written by a Lake."

Tony Shannahan came out and backed Patti on a new song I believe was called "All That You Desire" [actually "Grateful"? -- see set lists.] Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Dougherty came out for a shamanistic rendering of "Ghost Dance." Patti left the stage and Lenny took the mike for a rousing Waylon Jennings, "Love of the Common People." When Patti last played in San Francisco she said that Lenny couldn't make it cause he was at Waylon's annual barbecue in Texas.

Lenny introduced a special guest, and Patti's son Jackson walked onstage and plugged in. From where I was sittin he looked a helluva lot like his father Fred. They went into "Smoke On the Water," with Lenny doing lead vocals until the chorus when Patti, standing on the side of the stage with a grin from one ear to the other, would run up to the mike and scream, "A FIRE IN THE SKY." She did that about 10 times until she finally let out a beautiful "FIRE IN THE FUCKINGGGGGGGGGGGGGG SKYYYYYYYYYYY." One of those magic moments when you know you're alive and happy to be.

Jackson left the stage and the band went into Sonic Smith's "Born Again" which rocked as hard as "Smoke On the Water." Tom Verlaine slipped on stage and Patti introduced him as she did on the Dylan tour, as Tom with the bum leg. They went into Oliver Ray's "Walkin Blind" from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack, with Verlaine laying down his own special brand of psychedelic blues licks.

Another new song I believe called "In Heaven Blue" was great, though Verlaine was still holding back. He started to loosen up on a song from the forthcoming album called "Southern Cross," another quiet number she's been playing live since last October.

Patti next peeled her sox off while singin "Dancing Barefoot," a forceful, enthusiastic version. She read the opening from "Neo Boy" and launched into a nuclear version of "Rock and Roll Nigger" that matched in intensity and energy any recorded version of the song that I've ever heard. She was on the fucking floor screaming the lyrics, capturing what made the song amazing the first time around.

She read the poem "Perfect Moon" before the band started "Redondo Beach." A beautiful lesbian love story/suicide reggae number from her first album. I don't think she has played this since '79. Verlaine opened up playing offa Lenny adding a nice dub sound to the mix.

"About A Boy" has grown into a full fledged song, ready for prime time. When I first heard it on a tape from about a year ago I thought it was a sweet little number, but it has turned into a sweet/angry and fitting tribute to Kurt Cobain.

Patti read "Dylan's Dog" as a lead in to Dylan's "Wicked Messenger." She had fun with "Dylan's Dog," almost mocking herself as she read it. "Wicked Messenger" to put it simply smoked like a motherfucker. Again Lenny and Verlaine played off of each other and for a few minutes got into the Radio Ethiopia zone where the jam just goes on forever.

She quieted things down again, this time with an exquisite version of "Wild Leaves," the b-side to her 1988 single "People Have the Power."

As with the Dylan shows, she closed things with a rockin "Not Fade Away," dedicated to Jerry Garcia. She pulled out her harmonica and started bending notes all over the place and went into a long rap in the middle of the song about clouds and sittin on yer ass and what to do and what not to do. She left the stage 1 hour and 40 min after she walked on.

The Encore: Basically Patti has said that she will never do her big hit "Gloria (in excelsius deo)" again. She just doesn't believe how she used to believe. She walks onstage and tapes a piece of paper to the mikestand and the band goes into "Gloria," but it's not Patti's version of Gloria, it's the original Them version of "Gloria" and its sweet. She gets to sing "Gloria" again without singing "Gloria."

A wonderful night full of both quiet and loud intensity.

I just have to add that Tony and Jay Dee sounded just as great as everyone else.

Copyright © Mark Faigen baum 1996

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