ROIO of the Week [Recordings of Indeterminate Origin]

Patti Smith
E-Werk, Cologne, Germany, July 17, 2004 [No label/2CD]

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 Smith’s 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 Springsteen’s 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:

"Today is July 17
and it marks the passing of John Coltrane
Possibly no other musician in the 20th Century
revealed so much of himself
and his relationship with his God than John Coltrane

"In doing so he spread a legacy which has influenced generations of musicians
provided us with a spiritual homeland
that is not material nor materialistic,
that excludes no man, embraces humankind
in the name of love

"In the summer of 1967 when Trane blew his tenor sax
he often pressed his hand against his right side
No one suspected the breadth of his physical pain
until he was admitted to hospital in Long Island

"We lost him on this day at the age of 41
during the Summer of Love

"The cries and the moans of his compatriots
mingled with the trumpeting of the archangels
Gabriel ripped the wrists of John Coltrane
and lifted him to another level
through the godliness

"Trane given a soprano sax from the hand of an angel played
The Lord upon hearing his music
responded with pleasure
as if an 8th day had been created

"And God said:
‘Trane it is good…"

I don’t 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 wasn’t there anymore. Her voice is barely a whisper. She offers up a ballad, Peaceable Kingdom, played on the piano.

"Looking out the window at the rain
and I wanted to tell you
that your tears were not in vain
but I guess we both know
it’ll never be the same

"Maybe one day
we’ll be strong again
to build it back again
build the peaceable kingdom
build it back again"

Her songs are not written in isolation. When linked to an event, the meanings become clear. That’s her talent. That’s her gift.

Patti Smith earned her reputation on her first album, Horses. It contained the notorious Gloria with it’s infamous opening line, perhaps the most profane in the brief history of rock - "Jesus died for somebody’s sins… but not mine."

Tonight, as on almost every night of this tour, she closes it with yet another reading of Gloria. You can’t 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 somebody’s sins, she holds her breath, and yours, to stretch the seconds into seeming eternity before she almost gleefully raspberries Mel Gibson’s passion, "but not mine".

Smith believes in God. Mel Gibson believes in Jesus. That’s the difference. And I still haven’t 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 that’s 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

Stride Of The Mind
Break It Up
My Blakean Year
Southern Cross
25th Floor
[impromptu song]
We Three
[monologue - in memory of John Coltrane]
Seven Ways Of Going
Free Money


Peaceable Kingdom
People Have The Power
Mother Rose

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