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Friday, August 05, 2005

Not Fade Away

Last night I went to Central Park to see Patti Smith live in concert at SummerStage, her third appearance at Rumsey Field since 1993. Although this was the first time I saw her here, it was not the first time I saw Patti Smith and her band perform in New York. Three years ago she appeared at the downtown River To River Festival, an ongoing effort to revitalize lower Manhattan after 9/11 - I even took my summer performance students to see that.

Patti Smith dedicated yesterday's show to Jerry Garcia, the legendary Grateful Dead guitarist, who died on August 9 ten years ago. As it happens, Garcia was born on the 1st of August, so she declared this week "a nine-day week for Jerry." The highlight of the Garcia remembrance was an electrifying version of Not Fade Away, a song made famous first by Buddy Holly and then the Rolling Stones. This was neither the first nor the only cover at last night's SummerStage gig. Bob Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone was delivered with great passion and introduced as an American folksong. According to a poll released today in Uncut magazine, it's the number 1 song that "changed the world". Patti Smith took part in the Uncut survey too, saying that Dylan's masterpiece got her through adolescence in the mid-60s.
Patti Smith live in Central Park - 4 AUG 2005
Because the Night made an obligatory appearance during the show, but it was also intensely pleasant to hear songs from her most recent album, Trampin'. My Blakean Year is my favorite song from Trampin' and it sounded even more alive (no pun intended) last night than it does on the album, where the poetry sinks in above the music. Peaceable Kingdom was the song she chose to play for all the people who have died, and continue to die, because of the so-called war on terror. In her anti-war rant you could clearly see that she's even more committed to peace now than she was back in the 70s when she wrote and sang songs like High On Rebellion.

This was a more energetic, raw performance than I expected. In some ways I'm even more glad I saw this show after missing the Meltdown Festival in London last June. Central Park has its own magic aura for live music, even if you don't get a great seat. Anyway, you can't really complain when you're not asked to pay anything as an entrance fee, right?

Although she was on stage for over an hour it felt just like a few minutes had passed when the revolutionary anthem People Have the Power brought the show to a thundering end with her amazing version of Gloria as an encore. "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine." Indeed.

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