Monday, October 16, 2006

Patti Smith @ CBGB's

This show was much hyped being the last show ever at CBGB's. I was going because I'd never seen Patti Smith in concert before, but the hype helped me out because we wound up getting a 3 1/2 hour long show, that tracked back through most of Patti's best stuff and a few well chosen covers.

I'm not much of a fan of the venue itself. I wasn't even born durings its heyday, and the only show I'd seen there before was a sparsely attended performance by two of my friends' bands, Phylum and Trip Mine Baby. It was cool that they were able to get booked at such a legendary space, but the space itself is not very good. There's very little space, and much of the floor is blocked off by the bar. Last night, there was a massive crowd and it took forever to get inside, for no particular reason, just that they were really slow checking names. I got on line around 8:30 and didn't get in until around 10. There were a lot of people buzzing around outside, and a lot of rock journalists on the line.

When I got in, Patti was already playing, doing a cover of 'Pale Blue Eyes.' For the next few songs, I struggled to advance to the main floor, but remained caught by the bar. It was really tough to focus on the show since everyone was talking, I'm not sure why they even went if they weren't going to listen to the music. The place was wall to wall people, and there were some contentious moments. A younger guy refused to let an older guy pass by, and when he did finally get by, the older guy said "You wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for me." Apparently, he was an early manager of The Ramones, or perhaps he was this dude's father. I got the sense that a lot of veterans of the club had made the return, people who had been going there since the 70s. Considering the shows they've had over the past few years, I'd imagine most of them haven't been back in a long time.

This first part of the show wasn't too good. I could barely hear her over peoples' conversations, and the songs themselves were generally more low key. 'We Three' was nice, but it's not the kind of thing that's going to grab a crowd. They played a nice 'Birdland,' then took a brief break. At this point, the people shifted and I was able to make my way up to a nice spot off to the left, not too far back.

I'm not sure if it was just that I was closer, but when they came out for the second set, it was like a whole different band. There was so much intensity in attacking the songs. 'Free Money' was an early highlight, turning into a lengthy jam with solos by Lenny Kaye. Patti was also backed by Flea of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, doing some strong bass work, as well as a lot of head swiveling to the beat. If Enrico Colantoni's ever looking to do a biopic, I think The Flea Story would be an ideal project.

Patti herself was a bit eccentric, telling a number of rambling stories, and frequently reading the lyrics to the songs off paper. She even had a book out for some of her own songs. Normally between the songs she would seem nervous, but once they got going, she'd get into the music and tear things up. The mic stand went down multiple times and no one can match her screaming.

'Gimme Shelter,' which they claimed to have learned "in the bathroom" the night before tore things up. It's a great singalong song, and they gave it a suitably epic quality. With the covers, there seemed to be an effort to present a cross section of artists from the period of CB's glory days. There was the necessary Ramones medley, as well as stuff by Blondie, Lou Reed, The Yardbirds and The Who. 'My Generation' is a song whose meaning has changed quite a bit, now that the people of that generation have gotten old. I know some people take issue older people, like The Stones or The Who, that are still touring and making music, but I think it's great. What should they be doing, just sitting at home, waiting to die? Even if Patti Smith needs glasses to read her lyrics, she can still tear it up better than people half her age.

I've been to a lot of concerts, but this is the first band I've see that falls into the 'classic rock' genre. I love the guitar sound of the 70s, and I think today's rock bands have lost the ability to go heavy without descending into chaos. On songs like 'Free Money' or 'Rock and Roll Nigger,' they had very loud, rocking lines, but it never descended into noise. That's what I miss, from work like Patti's or Led Zeppelin, the blues influence. I loved the way they allowed songs to expand and just jam.

For the encore, they did a roughly twenty minute medley of 'Land' and 'Gloria.' 'Land' was slowed down a bit by the lengthy rambling around the war in Iraq, but 'Gloria' was fantastic, with huge crowd response on the 'G-L-O-R-I-A' call and response. That was the highlight of the show for me, though 'Free Money' came pretty close. Things wrapped up with 'Elegie,' where Patti named various musical pioneers who've died. It was a really nice wrap up, and a fitting close to the night.

At three and a half hours, this was a pretty unique show. Patti played the vast majority of songs I'd want to hear from her, and the show only gained momentum as it went on. There was certainly a risk of being morbid and nostalgic, but I think the club went out on a high note, with songs that still sound fresh and exciting today. And I like the fact that Patti said that ultimately the space doesn't matter, it's the spirit. CBGB's had its time, but it's up to future generations to claim a new space for themselves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

...So sad. Time passes, and nothing stays the same.