May 13, 1978
Winterland has rightfully earned it’s reputation as the ultimate rock palace. Because it is constructed to have the large central floor there is a sense of unity in the audience, reinforcing the tribal nature of Rock’s rhythmic pulse. The acoustics are overwhelming in their intensity.
A local new wave band, The Readymades, opened the show. their music is compact and melodic, strongly influenced by the groups of the British Invasion such as the Who. In fact, their closing number was “The Kids are Alright,” and early Who single. The lineup consisted of two guitars (one a bright blue Richenbacher), a bass, drums, and keyboards. Lead singer Jonathan Postal put on a provocative performance. In Joel Selvin’s review of this same concert, he called them outstanding. I would agree; they have charisma.
The next act, The Greg Kihn band, was perhaps more technically complex, but I thought the lyrical content and basic structure of their songs rather insipid. I was too disconcerted to notice the lineup, because at this point I nearly suffocated in the crows. I was flush against the 5′ stage. I am 4’11”, and the surrounding people were also trying to get as close to the stage as possible, that is the surrounding couple thousand people. so, in a typical ‘teenager at a rock concert’ fashion I hyperventilated and had to be pulled up onto the stage out of the crows. and all this occurred after Patti Smith came on .
This stage rushing occurred because Patti Smith is a cult figure, a poet whose art student following is close to fanatic. I must confess that I am one of these fanatics. So of course I was wildly upset to have lost my place in the crows. I did however, get a good view in the long run.
Patti Smith aand her band are almost one entity; she has worked closely with them for several years. She and her guitarist, former rock critic Lenny Kaye, used to play solo gigs together in the early seventies; her poetry set to improvised rock guitar. I talked to Lenny and to Ivan Kral, the bass player, before the concert. They were amiable people who were surprised at the amount of attention the group was getting in the media and from the people. Lenny plays a Stratocaster, Ivan, a Les Paul. The drummer, Jay Dee Daughterty, is a superbly simple rock drummer in the tradition of Charlie Watts who is also proficient in reggae-influenced numbers. The keyboardist, Bruce Brody, who is the newest member of the group, replacing Richard Sohl, is a subtle and inventive player, although his improvisation is not as sparkling as his predecessors.
They opened the show with an intense, driving “Rock ‘n; Roll Nigger”, Patti’s analogy of the artist outside of society. It was a peculiar choice for an opening number, for although it is suitably rousing, it has gotten mixed criticism regarding the lyrical content: “Baby was a black sheep/baby was a whore/ you know she got big well she’s gonna get bigger/ baby’s got her hand got her finger on the trigger/ Baby baby baby was a rock ‘n’ roll nigger.” The song is obviously autobiographical, a “nah-nah” to all the critics who said she wouldn’t make it because she couldn’t sing.
But Patti can sing; her voice is actually quite miraculous. Previous to Patti, there had never been a true woman rock vocalist. all cries of “Janis!” must be hushed; Janis was a blues singer. Patti doesn’t sing prettily, but in an earthy, sensitive, chest voice alternating moans and growls and delicate floating sequences. Her trademark is her sudden screaming ends of phrases, reminiscent of James Brown, Tina turner, and Little Richard.
following “Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger”‘s pounding ‘outside of society’ chorus as “Kimberly:, a song from her first record. It is a mesmerising melody with heavily accented drums and whirling keyboards. The next song, “Redondo Beach,” also from the first record, was a reggae elegy on the suicide of a young girl.
They performed several songs from the new record, “Easter,” including the title cut, a long a wandering tune about Rimbaud, “Till Victory,” a defiant anthem, “Privilege (Set Me Free), a desperate plea to God in which she recites the Lord’s Prayer, “Space Monkey (25th Floor)” on which she played lead guitar for about five minutes, ecstatically, “Ghost Dance,” the beautiful, African-like chant in which the backups are constantly ringing, “we shall live again”, and the profoundly sensual “Because the Night,” co-written by Bruce Springsteen, and currently #7 on the KFRC charts. It is the highest a new wave single has ever been on the US charts.
The surprise of the evening came when she sang Debby Boone’s (Pat Boone’s daughter and contemporary female counterpart) “You Light Up My Life,” I refer to Joel selvin’s review: “Archetypically, Patti Smith is as remote from Debby Boone as it is possible to be in the already diverse world of popular music, but smith was trying to make a point about her maturation as a rock artist to the near sold-out throng at Winterland.”
Onstage Patti is remarkable. Her delightfully androgynous interpretive gestures and ecstatic dances are utterly genuine and spontaneous. she talks to her audience, singles people out; she truly communicates, a unique phenomenon in this age of aloof rock stars. I talked to her very briefly at the Mabuhay Gardens the following night. I could write for pages about her sparkling artistry, but this is supposed to be a brief concert report. At any rate, the concert was the best I’d ever been to, as Selvin says, “right up there with classic performances by rock greats like the Rolling stones or The Who.
And for the record, to prove that she is a true rocker, Patti performed incredible cover versions of The Who’s “The Kids are Alright” and “My Generation,” Them’s “Gloria,” and Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock.” Patti Smith is Rock ‘n’ Roll.