Patti Smith headlined a Saturday evening performance of artists spotlighted by the Gavin AAA Summit, a regional radio conference. Also on the bill were Paul Westerberg, Patti Rothberg, and Keb Mo.
Patti's acoustic set featured Lenny Kaye and Oliver Ray on guitar, and she occasionally picked up a guitar herself and strummed simple accompaniment. The show was very like last fall's acoustic performances in the U.S. From a professional standpoint, the show was a disaster. Any semblance of pacing and transition was completely absent, and it is unclear how the radio executives perceived this in the wake of tight, polished sets by the other artists.
Nevertheless, Patti made it clear she didn't give a fuck about the reason she was here. This pleased the minority of the crowd (including myself) who did not get in free, and had to pay $30.00 for a ticket. So the true believers were treated to a very intimate, in-your-living-room, spontaneous performance that made up in emotion what it lacked in slickness (how punk).
Patti began with a reading of "Piss Factory," and followed with acoustic versions of "Walkin' Blind," "Dancing Barefoot," "Ghost Dance," and "About a Boy," which was a particularly stirring song.
Patti then surprised us all by unveiling a new song, "Grateful," which she says is in tribute to the Grateful Dead. She alerted all bootleggers about the first-time performance of this song, and then asked "if your taping this, please turn off your recorders and allow me a chance to sell fewer copies of this song than you."
After much laughter, Patti performed the song, but was mostly inaudible because she kept staring at the guitar frets. Following this song, the trio performed a great version of "Beneath the Southern Cross" and a show-stopping rendition of "Wild Leaves," which she dedicated to Robert Mapplethorpe.
Patti then aborted a spoken word rendition of "People Have the Power" when she immediately forgot the words. She ordered Lenny to crank out "Gloria," which turned into a rambling improvisation when Patti stepped up to the mike. Inspired, she returned to "People Have the Power" with some coaching from Oliver and Lenny, and segued into a powerful "Gone Again."
The group left the stage, and Patti returned for an encore performance of "Farewell Reel." Like most of these shows, Patti filled up space between songs with entertaining banter and hurled well-deserved insults at some of the elite fatcats in the crowd.
Where the other acts were limited to 30-45 minute sets, Patti played for a
full 90 minutes. Although I think she made a bad impression on some
expecting a real showcase performance, I loved the show. It's not often
that a real genuine artist and great person will come over to your living
room, sit down, have a conversation, and make music. I like Patti Smith
more and more each day, and I hope she returns soon.
Copyright © Michael Solem 1996