Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye Words and Music – 29 May 2018 de Duif, Amsterdam
The monsoon hit yesterday as I was on my way to this church in the middle of Amsterdam. The weather had been hot and humid and then the rain came down. My friend Carrie was coming up from Utrecht and we didn’t have time to meet for supper, and by the time she arrived, drenched, most everyone had filed in for the 8:30 show. As we leaned on a wall near the back of the venue, someone told the man next to us that there were seats upstairs. In front of the organ. With a clear line of sight to the stage. Perfect.
smith-kaye-20180529I’d never seen Smith perform, but I’ve been listening for ages. In high school, friends from New York put Piss Factory and her version of Hey Joe (with the Patty Hearst intro) on a mix tape for me. And of course I’d heard Because The Night because it was all over the radio. Later I’d listen to those first four Arista albums but not really understand a lot of them. Gloria I got. The title track of Horses was overwhelming. In college picked up Radio Ethiopia because Dramarama had covered Pumping My Heart, but aside from that song and Pissing In A River, again, it was overwhelming. When Dream of Life with its single People Have The Power came out, I was working in a record store in San Francisco and the manager was crazy excited that she had a new record after eight years off the musical radar. I wasn’t impressed with it and went back to listening to Wave and Easter which had the punk sensibility that affected me most in her work.
Anyway, when tickets went on sale for this gig, I was keen to get them because sometime recently (possibly after hearing about the Horses tour a few years ago) I decided that I didn’t want to miss seeing her perform. (At 71, she’s still going very strong, but as I wasn’t the first to note a couple of years ago, 69 [David Bowie amongst others] is the new 27 [Brian Jones, Hendrix, Joplin, Winehouse and a whole slew of others].)
She and guitarist Lenny Kaye walked on stage and she opened by saying, ‘Behind those clouds is a beautiful full moon.’ She said that she’d wanted to read this old piece of hers, but didn’t have a copy, but found it on the internet. In the course of the show, she read two excerpts from a new volume called New Jerusalem which offers some poetic response, among other things, to the Trump presidency.
Early on, Smith and Kaye performed a lovely rendition of Dylan’s Boots of Spanish Leather. I’m not sure if she gets sufficient credit for her interpretations of other people’s songs. Early in her recording career, her version of Van Morrison’s Gloria was hailed, but that was for the intensity of her re-interpretation. I want to say recently, but it was probably eleven or twelve years ago, she released a full album of other people’s songs that she managed to make her own with some success. After the Dylan song, Kaye stepped up and dug his heels into Waylon Jennings’ Love of the Common People which felt unlikely but absolutely in place at the same time. I was certainly game for whatever they chose to bring on. Either they had a really good rapport with the audience or the room was as game as I was for the experience.
The poems she read included Pythagorean Traveler and another segment of New Jerusalem called Prophecy’s Lullaby. Pythagorean Traveler was preceded by the song My Blakean Year (which makes thematic sense – as many of the poems she shared make use of William Blake’s imagery and vocabulary). At one point she asked if anyone had any questions. The only one to step up could only ask in French. Neither Smith nor anyone near the asker could speak French to which she added, ‘We have in common that none of us can read Rimbaud in the original.’ The question was lost but it was an amusing moment.
In my favourite of the spoken word moments, Smith asked the audience if anyone had brought a copy of Just Kids, her memoir of living poor in New York with Robert Mapplethorpe at the turn of the 70s. Several hands went up as she explained that it would be Allen Ginsberg’s birthday next week and she wanted to read an excerpt. Copy in hand, she flipped through it trying to find the page, which a reader of that copy had handily bookmarked. It’s a very sweet tale that you can find below. (She read from ‘Horn and Hardart, the queen of automats’ on the left page through the bottom of the right.) In her reading, you could feel the love she felt for Ginsberg beyond the words.
As for the musical numbers, they performed (among others) ripping versions of Dancing Barefoot, Pissing in a River, Because the Night, and People Have The Power.
When they were about a verse into the last song, someone at the front of the audience put something on the stage, which might have been flowers, and she had to stop, explaining that the stage had to be kept clear. It was a really odd moment, but she backed up and she and Kaye played a really touching rendition of Presley’s I Can’t Help Falling In Love (which was the proper encore the following night). I’ve always found this particular track to be really kitschy, but I was totally sucked in. The audience sang along and it felt like we were all around the same campfire for a few minutes. In an evening full of touching moments, that one was, inexplicably, as well. And then they topped it all off with a full-throttle go at People Have The Power.
Set list:
Little Moon (poem)
New Jerusalem excerpt (poem)
Ghost Dance (s)
Boots of Spanish Leather (Dylan’s birthday a couple days ago)
My Blakean Year
Lenny Kaye solo – Love of the common people
Pythagorean traveler (poem)
Dancing barefoot
Meeting Allen Ginsberg from Just Kids
Southern Cross
Prophecy’s Lullaby (poem)
Pissing in a river
Because the night
People have the power (cut off)
I can’t help falling in love with you
People have the power