An Evening With Patti Smith
Bardavon 1869 Opera House, Poughkeepsie, NY
Saturday, December 6, 1997
by Mike Jurkovic
(visit r&n at www.rhythmandnews.com)
Have you ever had the perverse pleasure of witnessing the chaotic dance of a broken high voltage wire? Compelled hypnotically to watch as it snaps, snakes and sizzles. . .arcing madly as if thrashing for freedom?
This was Patti Smith at the Bardavon Theatre. From the opening "rehearsal version for our Nashville gig" of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" to the frenetic rip riot encore "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger", Smith came to kick some serious ass.
Forget all those tired, hack journalist adages about the high priestess or punk poetess. Patti Smith lunges out to wake up her sleeping constituents lulled into a moral and spiritual inertia by TV and recreational vehicles. And, like an air raid siren, she shook out the ghosts and left their ears ringing.
Defiantly proclaiming that this was the second sold-out performance of her recent tour (God knows why that is, unless everybody's been fooled into thinking The Stones are up to something new), Smith moved decisively from an acoustic "Southern Cross" to an eery "Ghost Dance", a feverish "Dancing Barefoot" and a blistering "Free Money". The anthemic "People Have The Power" inspired still another ovation and closed the first half of the show.
Dylan's "Wicked Messenger" opened the second set and in true Smith fashion was torn to apocalyptic shreds. Lifelong sidemen J. D. Dougherty on drums and Lenny Kaye on guitar still brandish all the firepower of their kinetic and claustrophobic CBGB beginnings, while Tony Shanahan on bass and second guitarist Oliver Ray complete a sound equivalent to a kick in the balls.
An abstract piece with Smith on clarinet led into the fragility of "Wing" and "Last Call". Three of the more powerful songs from her acclaimed peace and noise CD, namely "Whirl Away", "1959", and "Dead City" quieted the hoarse cat calls for "Gloria", "Till Victory", and "Horses".
The whispering tones of a Tibetian bowl lit the slow fuse that metamorphosed to the scorching wail of "About A Boy". Freeing oneself from the shadows of death is never an easy or elegant thing, and this song, following a rampaging "Gone Again", was an epiphany for all. A tumultuous "Not Fade Away" left the home crowd howling for more. And more there was as she reclaimed "Because The Night" with an encore that once and for all buries Natalie Merchant's lame-ass version. The above mentioned "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger", with the fired up crowd chanting the core lyric "outside of society" left this grand theater Radiant with Energy.
Patti Smith has always been unrepentant when blazing new trails, and like her weathered compatriot of the soul, Bob Dylan, she undeniably proves that rock 'n' roll needn't be the numbing repitition of greatest hits or a run for ticket money. It is a potent, living thing with the power to redeem, renew, and inspire.
Copyright © Rhythm and News 1998