Sunday, September 16, 2007

Are you experienced?

Have you ever been experienced? Well, I have, but that’s a different story. For now let me tell you about the Patti Smith concert my daughter Jane Bob and I saw the other night.

In many ways, this has been my Patti Smithian year. Early on I discovered her recent work and have been listening to it a lot. Her cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Are you Experienced was one of our theme songs at Burning Man (I know it sounds hokey, but it worked out that way naturally). and now I saw her live in New York on what proved to be a special night. There are worse artists to focus on for a year. You can trust me on that. And I’m not so sure there are better.

The night began in strange and disturbing ways. Jane Bob and I went to a Sushi place in the East Village for a light dinner before the concert. I asked for a large Sapporo and we ordered the rest of the meal when the waitress brought the beer. Jane Bob asked for a diet Pepsi. So you won’t be needing that, the waitress asked. What? She pointed to a beer glass I hadn’t noticed she’d brought. What? She’s not having beer, the waitress asked. I was dumbfounded. She’s fifteen, I said. Apparently, they thought she was my date.

I admit that Jane Bob is a mature 15 and she was dressed in a concert-going outfit -- black and white checkered sleeveless top, tight black jeans and black leather boots -- and her hair was real big, but she’s still 15 and they shouldn’t be serving her alcohol. No doubt she and her little friends will be going out for Sushi some time real soon. And it continued when we left the restaurant and walked down St. Mark’s place. At a glance, you probably wouldn’t realize we are father and daughter. I have straight, faded blond hair and hers is black and curly. Guys on the street were giving me approving looks. One guy looked at her, looked at me and gave a thumbs-up sign. I’d always known that it was an ego boost for pathetic old guys to date young girls for the obvious reasons, but I was shocked by the public approbation. There’s apparently a lot more to the ego thing than just sex.

Anyway, we got to the Beacon Theater and Jane Bob wanted a t-shirt. There were four designs. Which one should I get, she asked. I’d go with the Radio Ethiopia one, I said. It was brown and had Aramaic scribbles along with a cool illustration. Or the Twelve. It was grey with the word “Twelve” and a peace sign. Or the green one. What did you get? I got the green one. I was going to get the Twelve but they were sold out of my size. Why didn’t you get Radio Ethiopia? I didn’t like the color. Why do you like it, she asked. I like the design, I said, plus nothing on it says Patti Smith and it’s an obscure album. Only true Patti Smith fans would recognize it. Ah, she said, you like it for the pretentious snob factor? Busted.

Patti Smith was the only act. She came out and told us it was a special show dedicated to her late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith whose birthday it would have been. Most of the songs would have something to do with their life together and she would explain the connections as she went along. I knew this meant that she would be playing a lot of new stuff, which made me happy since I spent several months listening to it obsessively. Earlier in the day I had made a joke at Roy’s blog that I’d be yelling “play the old stuff. Gloria!” I was kidding of course, it was the new stuff that I mostly wanted to hear, but as the night progressed, there were plenty of idiots in the audience yelling for Gloria. Of course I wanted to hear it as well, and I was confident that she would play it during one of the encores, but I thought it was incredibly tacky to holler for it, particularly given the personal, reflective nature of the evening.

The highest of the highlights included a rousing, emotional rendition of Dancing Barefoot and an incredible version of Smells like Teen Spirit. She never did play Gloria, ending the concert (almost anyway) instead with a killer take of Rock and Roll Nigger. There were plenty of other highlights. Gone again, Gimme Shelter and We Three were incredible as well.

I had seen Smith in 1979 and Rock and Roll Nigger transported me back to that night. Back then she was wild and contemptuous of the audience. Her band was very loud and energetic. The feedback was intense, often grating and nearly constant. At one point she put on an electric guitar and played a guitar solo that consisted of one note repeated over and over again. At first it was cool. Then it was funny. Then it was irritating. Then it was excruciating. And still she played it, long past excruciating. That was the spirt. I was glad to get back into it for one song at least. She’s not the only one who is nearly thirty years older than Easter.

The evening ended with Libby’s Song accompanied by her daughter on Ukulele. Her son, who also played guitar (quite well) with the band came out for a group hug and the evening was over. I can’t say that it was a great show technically, but it was a truly great show emotionally and it was Rock and Roll of the highest order. Who gives a flying fuck about technicalities? I’d put it among my top three favorite concerts. On second thought, no, that would knock her 1979 show down to number four. It was a great show though.

And it was a great experience for Jane Bob. As I mentioned, she is a mature fifteen and that is scary when waitresses are going to serve her and guys on the street think she's much older, but she was rapt during much of the show and genuinely did appreciate that she was seeing a special moment in Rock and Roll history. Patti Smith in New York celebrating Fred's birthday. It was a good place to be.