review of irving plaza concert, june 21, 1996

[contributed by Michael Solomon]

The Friday show was a very physical, raw, and overwhelmingly intense experience. I was on the second row of bodies in the dead center, right under Patti and right next to this very stoic Nordic guy who I later discovered was the floor security (he stopped one guy from rushing the stage during "Land/Rock N Roll Nigger"). The crowd around me was very respectful, except for one woman behind me trying to push her way to the stage, first complaining of fatigue and near-collapse and then imploring us all to "share". Whatever.

For many of the songs Patti was crouching on the speakers leaning into the crowd right over me—our faces were inches apart—I felt her heavy breath mixed with spit—very intense. For the quieter numbers she sat in a chair with her guitar and created an even more intimate space, at least to those of us right in front of her. For these songs the venue seemed even smaller.

The opening of "Piss Factory" was awesome, complete with a very powerful spit midway through. Towards the end, at the "I'm gonna get on that train and go to New York City...and I'm gonna be a big star," the crowd really started to go wild, and the momentum was really flowing. But then, with "Ravens," the crowd settled down a bit and the momentum was lost.

I was a bit confused when Kimberly, and then Lenny, were given their own numbers and Patti sat on the stairs with the kids. But then it made sense to me—Patti was showing how much of a collaboration her life and work have always been. I applaud her choice to share the limelight.

Besides "Piss Factory," the other highlights of the show for me were the rousing rendition of "Wicked Messenger" (much more arresting than the album version), "Dancing Barefoot," "Free Money" (really pumping), "When Doves Cry" (I knew I recognized the opening beat, but couldn't place it until Patti started singing. At the close of the song, she simply declared "Prince" in a shivering tone), "Summer Cannibals" (which is one wicked song live—I'm sorry I missed the Letterman show), and of course "PHTP/Gone Again" and "Land/RNR Nigger." Nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of these numbers—she sang them with wild abandon, and stole all of the energy of the crowd just to spit it back out at us with even greater levels of emotion. These were indescribably brilliant, especially the extended spoken word intro to "Land," the anticipation building on each word, the audience screaming and jumping at full force desperately waiting for the climax but at the same time silently and motionlessly absorbed in the new characterization of Johnny. It was simultaneously reckless full-throttle motion and contemplative solitude. To say the least it was a very intense moment that had my veins pulsing and my mind reeling.

Somehow, I just knew that she would come out a second time to play "Farewell Reel," because for some reason the concert just would not have been complete without it. Throughout the evening she had taken us through the cycle of her life and her career, and no cycle could be complete without this simple and graceful memorial to Fred. She had a smile on her face as she sat down and listed the chords just as she does on the album. Then she looked down to her guitar and the smile grew wider, she paused a moment, and then began the simple strumming. She seemed very happy singing this song and grateful for its existence. It was a both a fitting end to the cycle of songs that night and to the cycle of life that brought her to this moment.

Copyright © Michael Solomon 1996

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