The first time I saw Patti Smith in concert was an absolute revelation.
Reading from an over-sized bible at a makeshift lectern at that 1979 concert, Patti literally screamed the lyrics about "how I don't fuck with the past, but I fuck plenty with the future," from her song "Rock And Roll Nigger" from her manufactured pulpit on that stage.
And I sat there absolutely transfixed by it all.
I've seen Patti Smith live several times since, but nothing has ever matched the power I felt on that particular night. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but there was something absolutely transcendent about her performance on that night.
Like I said, I can't exactly figure out what it was about her. But it definitely had something to do with the words. They were quite intellectual to begin with, yet at the same time stripped to their most basic, guttural essentials. They were also quite profane, at least in the traditional Christian sense. Yet, they were also absolutely and undeniably spiritual.
As God is my witness, I could have married Patti Smith that night.
Tonight, hanging out at the bar across the street from the Showbox, where Patti Smith played here in Seattle, I actually had a chance encounter with her walking down the street on 1st Avenue as I stepped outside for a smoke. She was dressed in an oversized black coat, and loosely fitting blue jeans tucked into the brown cowboy boots she also wore. It was the exact same thing she wore onstage at the Showbox later that night.
Like I said, it was a chance encounter. And I didn't really know what to say other than a simple "hi Patti." A few minutes later of course, I happened to remember how much I would have loved to hear "Birdland" played live — but the moment was gone.
And no, Patti Smith did not play "Birdland" in Seattle on this night.
But, outside of that, tonight's Patti Smith concert in Seattle was another of those transcendent experiences on more notes than I can really count here. For one thing, she did start out early with the great songs from her brilliant Horses album, nailing a great version of the song "Redondo Beach" right out of the gate.
From there, Patti Smith went straight into the cover versions from her current album Twelve. But even here, she mixed things up a bit. Covering Jimi Hendrix's great "Are You Experienced?", Patti Smith introed the song with a surprisingly great solo on soprano saxophone, and eventually worked in elements of great Hendrix sings like "Voodoo Child" and "Third Stone from The Sun." The band's sense of rock history here — especially her longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye — was simply impeccable.
Speaking of Kaye, when Patti left the stage he led the band through a cover of the Seeds' garage rock classic, "Pushin Too Hard," after dedicating the song to Northwest instrumental legends The Ventures. I'm not exactly sure what the connection was there, but there is no question that it worked perfectly.
When Patti retook the stage, she introduced "We Three," from her commercial breakthrough album Easter, as a song she wrote in 1974 about seeing the great guitarist Tom Verlaine and his band Televison at the New York punk rock club CBGBs. From there, it was on to dramatic reworkings of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" (prefaced by Smith's tale of a visit to Seattle's Union Gospel Mission — a shelter for the homeless), and her brilliant bluegrass tinged version of Kurt Cobain's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
As the concert drew towards a close, Patti Smith brought out R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck (who currently resides in Seattle) for several songs. These included everything from the anthemic "People Have The Power" to R.E.M.'s own "Everybody Hurts."
This was a great, great concert.
Are You Experienced?
Within You, Without You
Beneath The Southern Cross
Pushin Too Hard
Because The Night
Smells Like Teen Spirit
People Have The Power
Rock And Roll Nigger