Tag Archives: Lenny Kaye

Happy 63rd, Patti!

Patti Smith, sharper and more focused on her birthday. (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Patti Smith was still as giddy as a little girl last night, for the second of her three New Year’s shows at The Bowery Ballroom. She had reason to be happy — it was her 63rd birthday, or “burfday,” as she so charmingly says it.

But, unlike the first night, Patti brought a bit more snarl and a lot  more focus to the show. (She mentioned that The New York Times said she did some “bad things” on the first night. Check out that review, by Ben Ratliff, here.) The only slight disappointment last night was that the set list largely repeated the first night’s set. It was a spirited evening, though — good enough to make me regret my decision to skip tonight’s show to avoide the craziness of a Manhattan New Year’s Eve.

It didn't look like there were 63 candles on the cake that Jesse Smith brought onstage for her mom. But who's counting!

The evening had a few surprises. For me, the best came when James Mastro of Hoboken’s The Bongos, resplendent in a red hat, materialized onstage to assist on a cover of Neil Young’s Powderfinger. Last night’s version was much stronger than the opening night’s tepid effort, and Mastro’s professional attitude, great guitar work and solid vocals made a huge difference. (It would have been helpful if somebody had bothered to introduce James when he came onstage. While plenty of people in the audience recognized the local hero, his name wasn’t announced from stage until after he was done playing.)

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Patti Smith: The original Punk Princess

Patti Smith and longtime collaborator Lenny Kaye kick off the the first of her 2009 New Year's shows with an intimate version of "Southern Cross." (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Patti Smith assured the sold-out crowd at the Bowery Ballroom last night that 2010 is going to be a better year. Not a perfect one, maybe, but better than 2009. And I think I can safely speak for the crowd when I say I sure hope she’s right. She reminded us that we’re having a blue moon this New Year’s Eve, and suggested it’s a sign of good luck.

Patti shows off a copy of her new book, Just Kids, at the beginning of last night's show.

Patti, who turned 63 today, kicked off her annual New Year’s run at the Bowery last night with a reading from her new book about her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids, which is due out Jan. 19. She wandered onstage wearing a knit cap and a heavy black hoodie snatched right from her merch table because it was so cold backstage — and outside — last night.

“I just got it on my way here tonight,” she told the crowd with her crooked smile. “It’s not like I’m trying to do a commercial. I’m just excited. … (But) I know you can’t download it. It was a bit about her first days in New York back in 1967, a perfect vignette.

The evening quickly, but briefly, turned bittersweet as she memorialized three like-minded artists who died this year — including rock poet Jim Carroll and singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt — by performing a beautiful acoustic version of Southern Cross with help from her longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye.

After a round of applause, Patti surrendered the stage to daughter Jesse Smith, who said not a word during her 25 minute piano ramble, accompanied by drums. glockenspiel and tubular bells. Jesse seems to be a competent player, but is visibly uncomfortable and uncertain onstage. Every time I see her perform, I wonder why she’s up there. Unlike her brother Jackson, who did not play guitar with his mom’s band last night as he often does, Jesse does not give the impression that she was born for the stage.

Jesse Smith and her band was the first-night opener.

Later, Patti reminded us that “Lenny Kaye played in Jim Carroll’s band. I did other things with Jim,” as she introduced Lenny for a version of Jim’s Still Life. That one drew a laugh. It was the first of two songs the band did without Patti – the second being a Tony Shanahan-led cover of Powderfinger in honor of Vic Chesnutt.

There were plenty of other charming moments and laughs throughout the evening as Patti plowed through at least one song from just about ever album. And even though she told the crowd she was still fighting the residue of illness, she sounded great and never faltered — except when she forgot the words to songs from time to time as she inevitably does at every show.

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