Patti Smith Live at CBGBs, New York, 29 Oct 97

[Review from Uncut (UK) - Jan 98]


David Fricke

TWENTY years ago, it would have been a damn cold day on the Bowery - no heat, no beer, no nothiní - when you heard a Grateful Dead song performed on this stage. Those were different times, when the weather-beaten morality and acid-sabotage games of the Dead and their generation were routinely denounced as old and in the way, as the shopworn bohemian gospel and wilted guitar aesthetic of tiresome greybeards.

But Patti Smith knew better; she always valued wisdom and work ethic over mere noise and attitude. In the mid-Seventies, Smith had been a charter member of the movable Greenwich Village salon that evolved into Bob Dylanís Rolling Thunder Revue. On the road with The Patti Smith Group, she opened shows for Eric Burdon and The Rolling Stones. During one pre-Easter tour, Smith actually landed the warmup slot on a handful of dates with The Grateful Dead.

And now here she is, two months shy of her 51st birthday, back in New York for a weekís stand at the club that made her fortune, and which she made famous in return - standing next to Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, singing the Deadís "New Speedway Boogie" as if she wished sheíd written it. They make an odd couple: a gently bearish man with a broad grin cutting through his salt-and-pepper beard, and the thin, shamanistic poet, looking like a frontier schoolmarm in her reading specs as she reads the words from a lyric book propped on a music stand.

But the crusty locomotion of Smithís band - devoted veterans Lenny Kaye and JD Daugherty on guitar and drums, bassist Tony Shanahan and guitarist and Dead freak Oliver Ray - suits the dark rumble of "New Speedway Boogie", written by Hunter and Jerry Garcia in early 1970 after The Rolling Stonesí disastrous free festival at Altamont.

There is also a sudden, wondrous swerve in the music, as Smith comes out of a pulpit-afire, freestyle rap about murder, greed and hippie naivete ("Is one knife enough to snuff out the American Dream?"), when everyone suddenly lurches into "Franklinís Tower", another Dead song, this time of resurrection and irrepressible hope ("...Roll Away The Dew...").

All told, Smith and her band play 20 songs over three hours, a casual pace that allows Smith to exchange love and quips with the crowd, make dedications ("Free Money" goes out to her late pianist, Richard Sohl), go into strange riffs about Maynard G. Krebs (the beatnik character In the Sixties sitcom, Dobie Gillis) and Rosemaryís Baby, and to thank the doctors who successfully performed triple-bypass heart surgery on her mother the previous day.

Smith sings a great deal about love and loss - "Redondo Beach", The Velvet Undergroundís "Pale Blue Eyes", a ragged, lovable stab at Hank Williamsí "Iím So Lonesome I Could Cry", quiet hymns and electric marches from the current album, peace and noise.

Then, for the encore, Smith delivers a final song of promise, one she had written with her late husband, Fred Sonic Smith, for the criminally underrated Dream Of Life album, one which she has never played in concert before: "Paths That Cross" is ostensibly addressed to the ghosts crowded on the stage - Fred, her brother, Todd, Richard Sohl, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jerry Garcia, Kurt Cobain - But itís also for everyone else in the room: "Rise up hold the reins/Weíll meet I donít know when/Hold tight bye bye/Paths that cross/Will cross again."

Copyright © IPC Magazines 1998

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