review of 5/4/97 concert, hoboken, new jersey

[contributed by Marc Posner]

The [Hoboken Arts & Music] Festival itself was nothing to write home about -- bad crafts and bad food. Deni Bonet (formerly a Twister Sister on the Mountain Stage radio show and sometimes accompanist for Robyn Hitchcock) played a nice set. Amy Rigby was really wonderful. Her Diary of a Mod Housewife was one of the best CDs put out last year. Her performance was friendly and energetic. And she rocked. Rigby's set alone would have been worth the drive from Massachusetts.

But Patti was the main event. I was too busy taking photographs to keep a set list, but I found one on the Babel list that seems to be accurate: Who Do You Love?; Kimberly; Dancing Barefoot; Gone Again; Southern Cross (with Patti sitting down and playing acoustic guitar); Smoke On The Water (done by son Jackson and Lenny Kaye, with little Patti participation); Free Money; Wicked Messenger; Radio Ethiopia/Howl >>rap >>I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry; People Have The Power. Encores: Because The Night ; Not Fade Away/Gloria.

Patti played electric guitar and/or harmonica on a couple of the songs.

She was both emotional and personable. During one of the opening songs, she jumped off the stage in front of the speaker columns and asked a couple of small children if they were all right or if the music was too loud. She also came down into the area between the stage and the fence again during "Smoke on the Water" to shake hands, chat with people, and sit cross-legged on the ground to watch her son, and her band, play.

At two different points during the show she mentioned how much she liked the architecture in Hoboken and how people should work to preserve their city and their community. I think her attention was drawn to the architecture by people watching (and waving) the roof of City Hall and the windows of other buildings. She said that the band was recording in Weehawken and came into Hoboken every morning for coffee. She said that the word "hobo" derived from Hoboken and she wanted to move to Hoboken just so "hobo" would be part of her address. At one point, she mentioned talking to the police and making sure that the band could bring its van up to the stage after the show to load-out, and double-park without getting a ticket. She said maybe they would let the band double-park in the morning when they came into Hoboken for coffee. "I always pay my tickets. Actually, I've never gotten a ticket. That's because I don't have a driver's license." She was quite droll. She didn't say if she had a license for her pants -- red, white, and blue (maybe black) stripes which would make her easy to find in an avalanche. (Hey, stranger things have happened in Hoboken).

Her sincerity was very impressive. She sounded like she really meant everything she said (that wasn't said in obvious jest). When she asked the audience how it was, and how the sound was, she cared. When she thanked the police for being "cool, " she meant it. She talked about the importance of cities and communities and of teaching children how to live properly. None of this was pretentious or polemical. It was all very warm.

She forgot the words during "Free Money." So she backed toward the drum-riser and gathered the band together (although she never looked at them for the words). At first she chanted "shit, shit" (in time to the music, no less) and then chanted something I couldn't quite hear (someone in the audience described as a "find-the-words-mantra.") She touched Lenny gently on the arm while she was gathering her thoughts and dove back into the song. It was a nice moment. The band was quite amused.

One of the images I'll always retain (only in my memory, as I was changing film at the moment and did not get a photograph of it) was Patti reading the opening lines of "Howl" from a (brand new) City Lights Pocket Poets edition of "Howl." Prior to reading, she banged away at her electric guitar, raising a storm of feedback, and managed to drop the book, her capo, and her glasses. She felt around the stage and retrieved all her equipment before reading. The book and her glasses spent the rest of the show in her pocket. After "Howl," she talked for a while about the necessity of protecting children from alcohol and drugs (a theme she repeated during the encore). Her version of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (which, as far as I'm concerned, is the best song that ever was and ever will be) was wonderful. She preserved both the melody and the emotional thrust of the song, yet removed it from its original musical context by singing it against a backdrop of intense feedback. (Tomorrow I'll look at this and fine myself for being pretentious. I hope I take checks).

After leaving the stage at the end of the set, she told the police officer guarding the stairs that she really needed to sit down. He showed her to a card chair. She slumped in the chair, looked up at those of us nearby, rolled her eyes, stuck her tongue out and panted like a dog to let us know that she was exhausted. (And, for those of you who need all the details: Patti has a really long tongue). She slumped for awhile, scratched her head rather violently with both hands for what seemed like several minutes, and rounded up the band to retake the stage for her encores. I think it was during the encores that she spent a couple of seconds with a pink towel draped over her head. It (the towel, not her head) eventually fell to the stage. After the show, about forty or fifty fans trailed her "backstage" to City Hall, trying to get autographs and otherwise make contact. I don't know whether she came out to chat.

Patti's ability to be intensely emotional during the songs, yet warm and heartfelt between songs, was quite extraordinary. The intensity just seems to flow through her as appropriate to the emotional mandate of the material rather than from some need to demonstrate to her audience that she is intense, profound, or honest (all of which she is, of course). I think this allows her to put the intensity aside between songs and relate to the audience as an equal. She has to be one of the most honest performers I've seen (and I've seen a lot of them). I'm going to put this review to bed before I decide to go back and revise it ("First thought, best thought" as Ginsberg used to say). All in all, it was a great day in the Garden State. And thanks to everyone for not getting between me and the stage.

Copyright © Marc Posner 1997

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