The last time I saw Patti Smith was in '78 or '79 at a concert festival on the Philadelphia waterfront sponsored by my favorite radio station of the time, WIOQ. My friends and I had seats way up front, so that we were looking upward at the stage. Patti came on with her band and was backlit from where we were sitting, so that she appeared to have a halo around her head. She launched screechingly right into "Jesus died for someone's sins, but not mine -- twang! . . ." She appeared to be a force of nature, not a rock star. My friends and I were amazed by her (especially by her underarm hair -- she had on her sleeveless junkie white muscle shirt that day). I can't even remember who else played that day.
Fast forward to Sunday, October 20, 1996, and the second night of the Bridge School Benefit concert. Patti Smith is the fourth act to play, after Hayden, Cowboy Junkies, and Billy Idol. She comes out wearing a black jacket with the elbows worn out, black jeans, a plain white t-shirt, and black leather boots. The jacket looks like it could be the same one on that ancient album cover, the one with the famous Mapplethorpe photo. With her are three musicians: a drummer, a bassist, and a guitarist. Patti played acoustic, as did all musicians this evening. The only one in her band I recognized was Lenny Kaye. Tom Verlaine was not present.
The first song was "Wing," followed by one I couldn't identify, which Patti noted was a favorite of Michael Stipe, who she said sent his greetings. This was followed by "Ghost Dance" during which Patti did a great dance that I thought was very reminiscent of Stevie Nicks until I remembered that Patti did it first!
Patti said, "Here's another song from 1978, which I guess was a very good year," and launched into "Dancing Barefoot." At this point the crowd gave her the first standing ovation of the evening. A fellow sitting next to me said that on Saturday night she had at that point played "Gone Again" instead.
Next was "About a Boy," then "People have the Power" for the finale,
during which she half-removed the black jacket. Each artist was
limited to 30 minutes, so her time was up. (Too bad since I would have
liked to have heard "Because the Night," which most of the youngsters
in the audience probably think Natalie Merchant wrote!) All in all, I
thought Patti looked very rosy-cheeked and altogether more healthy than I
would have expected. Patti was followed by performances from David Bowie,
Bonnie Raitt, Pearl
Jam, and Neil Young with Crazy Horse. The fellow sitting next to me
mentioned that Patti had done a cool spoken word interlude during last night's
grand finale, but tonight she sat it out.
Copyright © Alison Chaiken,1996