review of 12/20/97 concert, Atlanta, Georgia

[contributed by Vernon Purnell]

Setlist for Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA: 12/20/97.
(Note: I believe this is all the songs, but some are out of order. I managed to get a setlist from the stage, but not all of the songs were on it. "Not Fade Away" was last on the list, but not performed.)

[The] Wicked Messenger
Don't Say Nothing
Redondo Beach
Piss Factory [aborted]
Who Do You Love?
Dead City
Beneath the Southern Cross
Last Call
Dancing Barefoot
Summer Cannibals
Whirl Away
Death Singing
Blue Christmas
Because the Night
About A Boy
Land / Gloria
Rock'n Roll Nigger

Writing about Patti's performance in Atlanta is an undertaking, but I'm going to try. I had only seen Patti perform once before, in Central Park, '95, and that was mostly a reading, so this was my first band performance. Having been a fan for 19 or so years (since jr. high), I was extremely excited. (Quotes from Patti are from memory, not verbatim.)

Patti hit the stage to a huge ovation, smiling so big she couldn't contain herself. The cheering continued, and Patti laughed, almost embarrassed by the rush of warmth. Her smiles continued thru the opening song, "{The} Wicked Messenger". She said that Atlanta was one of her top 5 cities (presuming she was being honest, any thoughts on the other 4? My guesses: NYC, Detroit, Philadelphia, and ?).

She brought out her copy of HOWL and performed a holy "Spell". "Don't Say Nothing" is strong, one of my new favourites. "Redondo Beach" is a real pleasure, and Patti seems particularly happy doing this one. Audience member: "Tell us about your kids." Patti is visibly befuddled by this and retorts: "Obviously you don't have children, or you wouldn't be asking me that." [These crowd outbursts were frequent throughout the show, and were very annoying. Most of them seemed to bother Patti too.]

She pulls out a copy of EARLY WORKS and starts "Piss Factory". She flubs a line, continues, stops and says "I don't know if I'm in the mood for this." Lots of calls from the audience ("Keep going", "Throw it out") and she puts it away (to my chagrin). Later, I get the setlist from the stage and see a ? before this title -- does this mean the band was unsure she'd do it, or she wasn't sure? Either way, it implies uncertainty prior to that moment of performance.

At some point, Patti begins putting her coat back on (after having removed it and dropped it to the floor). She is distracted by something attached to the lining of the jacket: "Wait a minute, I've found something here. I've gotten some bonus prize with my jacket." (examining) "It's a little plastic bag! There's something in it..." Audience member: "Buttons". Patti: "It is buttons! How did you know?" Audience: "Most jackets come with them." Patti: "Oh. Well then, nevermind..." (laughter all around). Between songs later, she says, "I'm embarrassed to say how long I've owned that jacket. You know, there are some great Civil War stories about buttons". Obnoxious audience member: "Uh-uh!" Patti glares at her: "Just for that I'm not tellin' you any!"

"Who Do You Love?" rocks the house (it's not on the stage setlist) -- has she played this in concert prior to this year? "Dead City" builds on that momentum, but "Beneath the Southern Cross" tones things down. Patti says something about wishing Mr. and Mrs. Stipe well, and wishing the uncle a speedy recovery (To the audience: "It's nothing serious -- don't worry about it.") She looks around and calls Michael to the stage (at first she mistakes a stagehand across the stage for him -- does she wear contacts?). It takes him a minute to appear, from the audience, not from back stage (I later see that he's with a group of people at a table on the side of the theatre). Stipe is smiling a lot, a bit shy, not looking at the audience much. Patti begins "Last Call", but after the first verse, she stops the song: "I'm sorry, I started that at the wrong tempo. Since this is special with Michael here I want to do this right." She starts the song again. Stipe is watching her intently, and the interaction of their voices is so beautiful I do believe I was witnessing something special (has he ever performed at a Patti Smith show before?). They seem pleased with the outcome. Michael doesn't leave -- he's exchanging words w/Oliver Ray & Tony Shanahan. "Dancing Barefoot" is next, and the crowd erupts. Patti kicks off her shoes. Stipe joins in the choruses and, responding to Patti's gesturing, he sings the 3rd verse (he looks a little sheepish at first, like he's not worthy). Stipe takes on the "Oh God, I fell for you" and Patti does her poetry rap. What can I say? It was an event I hope someone captured on tape.

Patti teases us by saying "This next song is going to test your spelling." Everyone cheers, thinking it must be "Gloria", but then she says "The key word is eat." (What does that have to do with spelling?). Fairly good response to the singalong, but not great. The order escapes me around her. "Whirl Away" is in there somewhere. She talks about the opening band, Smoke (is the lead singer Benjamin's connection to Patti well-known? He was Richard Sohl's companion at some point), saying their albums are great even though she can't remember the titles. She sings the song she wrote for Benjamin, "Death Singing". Having just seen Smoke for the first time, the song's lyrics suddenly made sense: Head thrown back, etc. -- she was describing his stage performance (it's "Death Singing" because he has AIDS).

After the song someone at the front requests "Ask the Angels". Patti glares at her, snorts, then mimics her in a stupid voice: "'Ask the Angels'..." She talks about her favourite Christmas records (I remember her mentioning Ray Coniff) and departs the stage. Oliver begins tuning up, with Tony looking at him in a toe-tapping, any-day-now way; he mutters to Tony about being out of tune. It is an awkward moment, and a woman in the audience yells: "I saw you at the Palladium and you did the exact same thing." Oliver is startled and very annoyed: he takes off his hat, points at her and yells "Execute that woman!". Patti comes from the side to check it out. Finally, Tony sings "Blue Christmas" (he does it well too). Patti comes back with a comment about Tony's Elvis impersonation, adding that he does indeed admire the King. "There's a great story about Elvis. Some reporter called him the King, and he said there's only one king, and he resides in Heaven." Snide audience member: "That's a really Southern thing to say." (I suppose she was implying that Patti was stereotyping all Southerners as Christian.) Patti snaps back: "Then it's a complimentary thing to say!" [NB: Neil, another audience-member, suggests that Patti actually said: "its a very lovely thing to say."]

Someone shouts for "Because the Night", and Patti immediately says, "Okay, we'll do that one." (It was not on the stage setlist.) "About a Boy" gets the Tibetan bowl treatment I've read about (not sure why others don't like this one -- I thought it worked better live than on record). A lovely "Wing" is played as well.

The main set ends with a tremendous "Land / Gloria", which was a peak moment for audience response. They exit the stage, then return with Patti saying: "If Michael or anyone in Smoke wants to join us, come on." (Stipe did not.) "Rock'n Roll Nigger" is sheer mania. Smoke's trumpet player comes out to blast some notes, then another Smoke guy comes out with a tambourine, singing. Finally, all of Smoke is on stage singing, cutting up. Patti gets pissed at one point -- I think she turned for her guitar and it wasn't there. She finally does get her guitar and rips it to shreds. Oliver smashes his guitar, Smoke is slam dancing around the stage (slamming into Lenny at one point -- Patti avoids them). Lenny lets it rip on this one. Patti taunts the audience: "This is your last chance Atlanta! Let it out! Don't take it out to the street, let it out here!" The crowd loved it, and Patti was certainly letting it all out.

I can't add much more. It was rapturous, epiphanic, yes, even shamanistic -- everything I'd hoped for and more. It was a Gathering! Thank you Patti. One other thing: they played one long set rather than 2 sets as they've been playing at other shows on this tour. Does anyone know why?


Copyright © Vernon Purnell 1997

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