of the Week [Recordings
of Indeterminate Origin]
When do you stop, drop everything and remember a day? A day like no other, of immeasurable joy and unforgettable sorrow. For some of us, it is the 17th of July, 37 years ago. This month, on this night, somewhere in Cologne, Germany, in a club or place called E-Werk, the Patti Smith band have been working the crowd for just this moment to call upon the ghosts of memories past, to rise up and celebrate the passing of John Coltrane.
Prior to that, the band had been on a European tour to promote Patti Smiths new album, Trampin, already given pious praise as a possible "album of the year". But tonight, she is feverish. It appears to be a smallish club with the audience near the stage and the crowd pressing in. The band sounds full on this audience recording, right up close and crystal clear. The mics are pointed to the stage and you can clearly hear her every word. Like Springsteens various revealing monologues during his 1975 tour, this one by Patti says more about her love of music and her faith in ourselves.
The band, five songs ago had pounded out a brilliant version of Birdland, audibly shimmering with energy and then just completed a soft and gentle We Three, the piano, for the first time in memory, dominating the sonic stage. And now, Smith hushes the crowd and begins to speak:
so he spread a legacy which has influenced generations of musicians
summer of 1967 when Trane blew his tenor sax
him on this day at the age of 41
and the moans of his compatriots
a soprano sax from the hand of an angel played
I dont recall any other band that can come on stage and invent something special and make it a performance. This is performance art as good as it gets. Even across time and space, sitting in my living room and listening to this live tape a few days after the show, the message gets through.
Later in the second half of the show, Smith again lowers the tempo and speaks to the crowd about a tragedy in India, the day before, when 90 schoolgirls, trapped in their tower block, were burnt to death. She confesses that the news had made her lose her "space". How she could feel what it must be like to wake up the next day and know that your little girl wasnt there anymore. Her voice is barely a whisper. She offers up a ballad, Peaceable Kingdom, played on the piano.
out the window at the rain
Her songs are not written in isolation. When linked to an event, the meanings become clear. Thats her talent. Thats her gift.
Patti Smith earned her reputation on her first album, Horses. It contained the notorious Gloria with its infamous opening line, perhaps the most profane in the brief history of rock - "Jesus died for somebodys sins but not mine."
Tonight, as on almost every night of this tour, she closes it with yet another reading of Gloria. You cant detect any of the routine-ness that must sink into a performer who has sung the same song so many times before. On the aggressive parts of the song, Smith gathers her energy into a ball to spit the fury. After the declaration that Jesus died for somebodys sins, she holds her breath, and yours, to stretch the seconds into seeming eternity before she almost gleefully raspberries Mel Gibsons passion, "but not mine".
Smith believes in God. Mel Gibson believes in Jesus. Thats the difference. And I still havent talked to you about her singing of People Have The Power or Mother Rose.
None of us, however wealthy, can have the time to fly around the world to catch all these concerts at close quarters but with the internet and a sea of adoring music fans, you can listen to almost any show thats going on out there in the world.
Patti Smith at E-Werk, Cologne was taped by zimmy21 using a Sony TCD-D8 Dat mobile recorder with SP-CMC-10 mics. It is brilliant. Thank you. - Michael Cheah
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