The line for the 10:30 Patti Smith Bowery Session (the last of three) was enormous. It curved around the corner and went around halfway around the next block. I was easily the youngest person in line. At some point, the couple ahead of me (probably also in their 20s, but definitely older than me) had the following exchange:
M: “Don’t you think it’s so weird that Patti Smith is 60?”
W: [blank stare]
M: “Because my favorite rock star is 60, you know what I mean?”
Yes, Patti Smith is old. It’s no secret to any of us, and it’s probably no secret to her. And if there’s one thing Patti Smith should be doing when she’s in her older years, it’s whatever the hell she wants to do. Her newest album, Twelve, is solely comprised of covers. None of them are particularly earth-shatteringly different or shocking — they’re mostly songs written by people she knows/knew, and it seems to be more about the stories behind the songs and the people than about the actual songs themselves. None of this should be all too surprising that Patti Smith’s reputation has been as much about who she knows as what she has done. On Tuesday, the release date of the album, Patti Smith celebrated by having three shows back to back, entitled “The Bowery Sessions.” They all sold out.A true class act, Ms. Smith came out at 11:03, just 3 minutes after scheduled, simply to say that her drummer was late and we’d have to bide some time until he arrived. She was incredibly talkative, almost nervous it seemed, as she stumbled over words and stopped mid-sentence. After about 5 minutes, one realized it wasn’t that she was nervous or anxious — she was drunk. Confirmation came when she told the audience that there wasn’t coffee in her coffee cup but tequila. Had it been anyone else there might have been cause for concern, as alcohol does not always make for the best performances. But for a tried and true performer like Smith, it didn’t interfere, it was just another source of inspiration and amusement.
They opened with “Gimme Shelter,” which worked rather well, as the timbre of Smith’s voice isn’t so dissimilar to Jagger’s now that it’s aged. When she introduced the next song as being by “a very good friend,” “Everybody Hurts” was the obvious guess, and it was a correct one. She rambled some more, talking about the video, and at one point she shared a story about how her name means “noble and weary” (don’t ask me how that was interpreted). Eventually she interjected, “this might seem slow, but this is the last of the Bowery Sessions, so I can drag it out as long as I want.” And drag it out she did — by the end of the second song, they had probably been on stage for a good 20-25 minutes.
After playing “Midnight Rider” and “Within You Without You,” she turned to the crowd, who had been shouting for “White Rabbit” and “Gloria” since she got on stage. After protesting for 5 minutes — “you want to hear a pathetic, unrehearsed version of ‘White Rabbit’?” — she played it, and despite her negativity, it was one of the better covers of the evening. She followed up with “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which had an impressively large amount of the audience singing along, considering that most of them were older than 40. Though I saw a handful of others in my age group, I seemed to be the youngest person near the stage, and saw a lot of wistful gazes in my direction.
The new covers are all decent enough, and a blast to see live, but Patti Smith knew what we were after, and she gave it to us by closing with “Gloria,” another cover, but one of her most inventive and well-known. She might be old, and Twelve might be a hair self-indulgent, but she still has that growling voice, the same suit coat and tie outfit, the same appreciation for the artform. She’s still Patti Smith, and hearing her sing, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine,” sent the same shivers down everyone’s spine.
image courtesy of flickr user Houari B.