If you're a music lover like I am, these past few weeks have been a joyous return, a reminder that music offers its own special form of healing, sometimes with words, often just through magical chords and beats. It's also been a literal return to places I haven't seen in a couple of years, such as Tanglewood, BAM and BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! at the Prospect Park Bandshell.
A week ago Sunday (9/19), I found myself back at Central Park's Rumsey Playfield, home of the Capital One City Parks Foundation SummerStage to see the legendary Patti Smith and her band. I was a bit apprehensive about being in a crowd of strangers without any ability to social distance, but everyone had to show their New York Excelsior Pass or other proof of vaccination upon entry. (Yes, I realize some people consider this an infringement on their personal liberty. No, I don't care.)
After a nearly two-year break, Patti, who is now 74, could be forgiven for being a bit nervous and shaky at her first NYC show in 18 months. (She was supposed to perform alongside Bruce Springsteen at the big Homecoming Concert in Central Park last month, but Mother Nature had other ideas.) On the contrary: Patti's full-throated voice was as strong and powerful as ever, ripping through classics such as "Free Money", "Because the Night", "Land" and "Gloria" with all the ferocity of her CBGB days. Joining her onstage were longtime bandmates Lenny Kaye (guitar), Tony Shanahan (bass), and Jimmy Doherty (drums), as well as her own talented offspring Jackson Smith (guitar) and Jesse Paris Smith (keys and vocals).
In between songs, Patti shared some of her poetry and other musings, such as a paean to the Harvest Moon rising in the east and remembrances of Charlie Watts, Lee "Scratch" Perry and former husband Fred "Sonic" Smith. Patti also had some choice putdowns for those who tried to make unsolicited requests. ("What? Yeah, just like a guy to say that.") Wearing her usual androgynous outfit of baggy black suit and white t-shirt, Patti was part earth-mother, part punk goddess, part priestess. More than anything, Patti played the role of healer, making it feel like everything was going to be ok after this awful year-and-a-half apart, punctuated with an encore performance of her classic "People Have the Power", to which we all joyfully shouted along.
There are still a few shows left at SummerStage, including a free show this Friday (10/1) with Yo La Tengo and Mountain Movers, and benefit shows with Joyce Manor (9/30) and Kenny Beats and Friends (10/2). Tickets and information available on the SummerStage website.
More pics and setlist below. Additional pics on the photo page.
Redondo Beach (dedicated to Lee “Scratch” Perry)
Perfect Moon (Poetry)
Ain't It Strange
Beneath the Southern Cross (dedicated to Charlie Watts)
Blame It on the Sun (Stevie Wonder cover)
I'm Free (The Rolling Stones cover) (with snippet of Lou Reed’s “ Walk on the Wild Side”)
Because the Night
Happy Birthday to You (to Patti’s friend George)
Pissing in a River
One Too Many Mornings (Bob Dylan cover)
Land / Gloria
People Have the Power