review of 1/2/97 concert, 9:30 club, washington, dc

[contributed by Fiona Webster]

The new incarnation of the 9:30 Club is clean and spare. It holds about 600 people in a standing-room-only area downstairs, and a few steps' worth of concrete step-seating upstairs on three sides. On both nights, the crowd was sparse at first, but gradually grew until the time of the show: the club was full, but not packed to the gills.

She walked out alone on stage without fanfare, dressed as usual -- in black trousers, boots, loose white T-shirt, and the black textured suit-type jacket she's wearing lately. Her hair was loose and not braided, on both nights. I don't think she said much at all before putting on her oval wire-rimmed glasses and starting to read from Early Work.

"Piss Factory" -- An intense, flawless, focused reading, the best I've heard compared to the recent tapes. I especially liked the pauses she allowed, and the pacing that speeded up and slowed down, depending on how she wanted to emphasize the lines. She sustained the rhythm through the part about the "monotony that's got to me every afternoon like the last one," so that I could really imagine her working in that heat, on that grueling line. My husband, who'd never heard or read the poem before, caught every word and was impressed.

Followed by "Jeanne D'Arc" / "Dog Dream" / and ("This one's for Richard Sohl") "Sohl."

Then she put the book away and took her glasses off, pacing around the stage a bit. Tony Shanahan came out, and accompanied her during a dramatic spoken version of "Going Under."

At some point in here there were a couple of loud bleeps in the sound system, and Patti said, "I wonder what that was," shaking her head. Someone in the audience yelled, "It was Richard!" and Patti laughed, saying, "Wow -- it was worth it for that comment alone."

Then Lenny joined them, and the intensity went up another notch as for "Babelogue":

i haven't fucked much w/ the past but i've fucked plenty w/
the future.
in heart i am an american artist and i have no guilt. i seek
pleasure. i seek the nerves under your skin. the narrow
archway. the layers. the scroll of ancient lettuce. we
worship the flaw. the mole on the belly of an exquisite whore.
one who has not sold her soul to god or man nor any other.

Brief intro about how "this is for my son," then "The Jackson Song." -- Sweet-sounding, of course, but she seemed a little bit distracted.

She left the stage, and Jackson came out. He and Tony did a catchy little blues jam titled simply "Jam in F-Sharp." Facing each other, enjoying each other, Jackson occasionally stepping over for a couple of pumps on the wa-wa pedal. We could certainly tell he'd been listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan tapes -- nice!

After a brief intermission, the full band came out: Patti, Tony, Lenny, Oliver, and Jay Dee. Tony and Oliver stood to Patti's right, and Lenny to her left.

"Radio Ethiopia" -- A short version, compelling but not spectacular. In lines such as the following, Patti seemed to be trying to connect to the crowd, to give them some kind of message, but the crowd didn't seem to know the words, and the communication seemed incomplete to me.

Oh I'll send you a telegram
Oh I have some information for you
Oh I'll send you a telegram
Send it deep in the heart of you
Deep in the heart of your brain is a lever
Oh deep in the heart of your brain is a switch

"Dancing Barefoot" (she kept her shoes on), then "Wicked Messenger" -- powerful delivery.

"Wing" (dedicated to Bill Monroe, which got hearty applause) -- lovely, ethereal.

"Beneath the Southern Cross" -- Oliver, Lenny, and Patti all sitting down, with acoustic guitars. This is my favorite song off Gone Again, and I have to say, I was a little bit disappointed. The guitars weren't quite in synch with each other, and although she was in good voice, her phrasing of the lyrics didn't carry their meaning with full impact.

"Kimberly" -- Back to electric guitars, and a great rendition of this one: focused and satisfying. Patti starting to play around with her jacket a lot, flirting with taking it off, and then eventually removing it and looping the sleeves around her waist. Later on, she took it off completely and tossed it aside. As usual, all her motions with props such as this were graceful and fluid and fascinating to watch.

"Summer Cannibals" -- Upbeat and enthusiastic, a real crowd-pleaser. She pointed the mike down into the audience for each chorus of "Eat! Eat!"

About half the crowd were gyrating wildly by this point, and the other half were definitely involved. The crowd had a lot of positive energy and were ready to get into it, but a couple things were going awry. One was that the pacing of the performance was uneven, with overly long gaps between songs, consultations between Patti and band members about what was happening next, and so on. The other was that one guy up front and center, leaning against the stage, was interfering with Patti's personal space -- sticking his finger into her face to punctuate the lyrics, stretching his arms out on the stage so she couldn't come all the way forward when she wanted to, and worst of all, handling the equipment (e.g., putting up a mike stand that Patti had knocked down).

"Walking Blind" -- Odd, sort of blurry version, in which I got the definite impression that Patti felt Oliver wasn't keeping time with her, because she went over to him and sang most of the song right in front of him. At this point, she had taken off her left boot, and was walking around with one booted foot, one sock foot. Despite the fact that she'd started the performance in a really good mood, she seemed rather muddled by now, and a couple of times she held her head in her hands and looked at the band members as if she were saying, "What's wrong with my head? What's happening to me?" And she started forgetting a few lyrics in about one song out of three.

The crowd had been yelling out a lot of song titles, joking around with requests like "Freebird." Early on, Patti said, sardonically, "I want you to know I'm considering all these requests very carefully." Then, in the gap (another gap) after "Walking Blind," someone yelled out "Birdland!" Patti said, "Yeah, right," in a funny sarcastic tone. "There's about 95,000 words in that song. I know about 118 of them."

"Ain't It Strange" -- During the instrumental buildup before the song, Patti amused the crowd further by taking off the other boot and playing a game with her socks (twirling them to tease the crowd into thinking she was going to throw them, making one disappear into a jacket pocket, then making a sock puppet of another). When she started the song, the sock puppet sang along with her for a few lines. The song was great -- almost back to 100% focus and intensity, and Lenny's vocals ("Str-a-a-a-nge") were eerie and perfect.

"About a Boy " -- Patti playing Tibetan bowl, a little bit disconcerted as though she couldn't hear what sound it was making. Wonderful, spooky, and polished version. Some lyrics before the "Toward another/he has gone" beginning that I hadn't heard before, and some other different lyrics about "a withered skin made into a pair of shoes" toward the end.

At some point in here, between songs, Patti asked the DC crowd, "Is Al Gore really here?" (We didn't know.) She said she hoped he would be doing a lot of good work for the environment over the next four years, and that we would be voting for him for president in the year 2000. Not much enthusiasm from the crowd about that.

"Redondo Beach" -- Good version, with the reggae beat having almost a calypso swing to it that made the song more light-hearted than usual.

"Wild Leaves" -- Not on the set list, so Patti said, "This is a surprise tune. I wonder if the sound man will recognize it." As much as I love this song, I was a bit disappointed: she seemed to be drifting on and off focus, so that some of the words were almost swallowed. And the band didn't seem to know how to accompany it, although they tried.

More patter with the crowd: "I've never been to this club. You have a good club here. A good club is not easy to find. You should support this club." Then she talked about how if we wanted to see "a beautiful landscape," we should come down on Amtrak through North Philadelphia, which she called "real Tug McGraw territory." (?)

"People Have the Power" (spoken) -- Patti meandered from patter into this song, without much conviction. After she said the lines, "In the form of shining valleys/where the pure air recognized," she broke off and said, "You may be wondering what that means. Well, I'll tell you what it means" and then went into a strange discourse about how taking all the "bottled water" in the world (pointing at bottle on stage to illustrate) and pouring that "pure water" into all the rivers and streams, etc., and then taking all the polluted water that had been in the streams, etc., and putting it in some kind of container that would not be dissolved or corroded by it, and then sending it off to a planet where it wouldn't hurt anyone... ('seemed to lose her point.) Then she admitted she didn't know what was going on, that she'd lost the thread. She apologized by saying she'd been watching a video of Lenny Bruce backstage, and had noticed how really annoying it was that he never finished any of his stories. <laughter from crowd>

"People Have the Power" (full band) -- And then, as if miraculously, Patti and the band came together for a perfect and passionate version of this song. It may have been just my imagination, but in this political town, I heard it as the political anthem I always hoped it would be. Terrific singing -- really stunning!

"Not Fade Away" -- With extended lyrics as per other concerts in the last year. Very good, although the lyrics were hard to catch. The crowd seemed a bit confused by this, after that accessible, rocking-out version of PHTP. Patti playing harmonica while crawling around the stage on hands and knees.

They left the stage, then came back for just one encore.

"Rock N Roll Nigger" -- Focused, intense, great! ...and then <arrrgghh> ruined by that jerk in the crowd I mentioned earlier, who right near the end, picked up the mike from where she'd laid it down, so that when she went crawling across the stage in what looked like an agonized search for it (but of course was completely controlled), he handed it out to her and freaked her out. She was furious, and fumed at him (using the F-word) -- off mike, but easy to lip-read. After the song, she stalked off the stage very quickly, obviously very angry -- so that we could tell that the performance was not only over, but had been cut off abruptly.

All in all, a good show, with lots of high moments, some weird moments, and an intimate and charming feeling imparted by the uneven flow. Patti is, of course, charismatic even when she's confused. It was the first time I'd seen her since 1979, and I had a bunch of different emotions -- thrilled by the show and by how close I'd been to her in that small club, exasperated by that jerk on the first row, sympathetic toward Patti, and excited to know I'd be coming back on the following night.

Copyright © Fiona Webster 1997

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