I ambled down to the Santa Monica pier with a group of friends last night to catch a free concert by Patti Smith, on the final leg of her summer tour. It was jammed with a rapt audience hanging on every word she uttered, but the refreshing thing about her is that she is off-the-cuff and humble in the face of blatant idol worship.
Whether she was singing Smells Like Teen Spirit (the Nirvana anthem in a softly sad rendering, with Flea on trumpet) or obscurities like We Three (from "Easter,") the jammed-in crowd was riveted by this woman's power. I kept thinking back to the summer of 1978 when I first saw her perform in New York at Central Park's Wollman Rink. "Horses" had been released at the end of 1975 and "Radio Ethiopia" had followed about a year later. Both were still emanating cultural shockwaves. She had taken rock and roll and molded it into a new form, fulfilling the promise of Dylan, Lennon and Jagger and surpassing it too. The crowd at that show tried to hail her as the new queen of rock but she would have none of it; she spit on the idea, literally. Patti Smith was nobody's girl. She didn't have a dick but she sure had the balls.
Last night when she performed Within You Without You, White Rabbit and Soul Kitchen (from her latest, "Twelve") it transported the event back to the Summer of Love. The hippie chicks and dudes of Venice danced in that free flowing way of delirious abandon: hips rolling, eyes closed and their bracelet and tattoo adorned arms floating up to the sky like time-lapse images of unfurling ferns drawn by the sun.
She tore through Gimme Shelter at a ferocious bent, as good as the version John Doe is closing his shows with on his current tour. Doug Pettibone sat in towards the end of the set and helped build the wall of sound for Gloria, still a song of such potent dimensions that the pier was shaking with the beat. "Little sister, the sky is falling," indeed.