making the drive up I-75 to see patti smith june 14, I wondered about how this show would be different than the other 4 or 5 times I'd seen her since she first reemerged here in the detroit area. the show was at the 15,000+ seat pine knob music theatre, which is a far cry from most of the much smaller places she's played here. also, this show was variably referred to in the press as the "stripped" or "girlie goddess" tour, headlined by sarah mclachlan and also including lisa loeb, aimee mann, and paula cole. how would patti's performance style, which has always seemed so intimate and personal and thus best suited to small venues to me, translate in such a larger setting? and would there be any attempt at a common theme between performers or something like that at the show?
after sets by paula cole and aimee mann, patti and the usual crew (lenny kaye, tony shanahan, oliver ray) walked onstage and pulled up their chairs so they were huddled together all with acoustic guitars. they started out out with a... well, kind of thoughtful and musing "beneath the southern cross". i apologize for not remembering for sure the 2nd song, but "southern cross" and the next song were fairly subdued yet still powerful, with the simple strumming of the 3 guitars being almost as in the forefront as patti's voice. patti then got up and initiated a little of her trademark chatting with the crowd, and picked up the pace and drew smattered cheers from the crowd by starting into "dancing barefoot". here's where she started to seem more comfortable and confident and animated, especially dancing around and improvising on the lines at the end ("...oh god i'm back again", etc), and the crowd started responding more.
"ghost dance", "walkin' blind", and "wild leaves" followed, with "ghost dance" being the highlight of this trio (lenne kaye in particular always seems to enjoy doing that one). all the renditions were quite good, but i was starting to feel bad for her because a lot of the crowd (mostly not there to see patti smith, of course) just wasn't into the performance and there was the continual buzz of talk very clear in the background.
and then came the really powerful part of the show, when patti started in reading "the people have the power". sometimes when she does this one it's almost like she's inviting you in to see the vision in the song, and it's earnest but understanding and positive. this time she picked up speed and by the end of the song she was just belting out the words with an arresting anger that woke up and drew everyone in. without stopping, the band then kicked into a fierce version of "gone again" that kept up this same anger and power and was the best version i've ever heard her do.
she then brought jackson onstage and introduced "farewell reel" by barking out "this is for fred sonic smith, don't forget him!". it was moving watching her and jackson sitting side by side playing that song, it was like she channelled the anger from the last few songs into the obvious pain and emotion of "farewell reel". when she walked off i was still wiping a few tears away, which in a humorous note prompted the big lisa loeb fan sitting next to me to laugh uproariously over. i have to admit that i just couldn't actually sit and watch lisa loeb after those last 3 songs by patti, especially when she came onstage in what looked to be an aluminum-foil miniskirt and gogo boots.
well, in terms of my wondering driving up how she'd do in such a big venue
where 95% of the people were there to see sarah mclachlan, it did make me happy
that she was able to win the crowd over and draw them in so much by the end
of her set. one other thing that i especially liked about the show too was that
some of the new songs, especially "gone again", came off so well. i'm hardly
the only one to have ever worn out several copies of say, horses on
their turntable before cd's came out, but the most stirring songs of this set
were by far "gone again" and "farewell reel".
Copyright © Mark Johnston 1996