Patti Smith

Continuing my tour of legendary rock goddesses I went to see Patti Smith and Her Band at the Lobero last night (1/27/15). Arriving 20 minutes before show time at the box office I was able to snag the one seat available in the orchestra, a late release in the handicap-accessible row, H31. Not only was it roomy and close to the stage, it gave me a front-row view of security drama, as half the ushers were parked in the aisle next to me. Patti opened with a familiar oldie – Dancin’ Barefoot   – which prompted the amply proportioned blonde seated behind me to jump up and dance. Told by the ushers that she must sit because she was interfering with those behind her, she protested that no one minded and stated, incredulously, “What, I can’t dance?!” As her conversation with the ushers continued through Redondo Beach, I pointed out that she was, in fact, bothering me. At this point she moved elsewhere, I don’t know where, but three or four songs later there she was in the front row, standing and dancing, much to the amusement of her female companions who had remained behind, but not to the ushers, who raced to the front to remove her again.      A tall woman in white, from out of town, had also purchased an “accessible companion” seat and had befriended the ushers while awaiting the show’s opening. Halfway through, a ponytailed man sat next to her and apparently caused her discomfort. She called over the  usher, and he allowed her to leave her seat and stand in the aisle (otherwise prohibited). Perhaps the man was drunk? A bit later he rose from his seat and spilled money, keys and phone on the floor and shortly afterward was ushered out, with an usher retrieving a paper bag with a bottle from under his seat.    The ushers also brought in latecomers in between songs – two flannel-shirted men even arrived 15 minutes before the concert’s end – but their main responsibility was shutting down iPad owners who disregarded the request not to film the performance. The chief usher, especially, a young tomboyish woman, darted down the aisle, flashing her light with great authority.   All the while, of course, I was soaking in the sounds of Patti Smith, whose distinctive echo-chamber nasal voice hadn’t changed over the years (as opposed to her now-white stringy hair). There wasn’t a lot of range in her repertoire, or in a given song. I would watch the guitar players and for long stretches their fingers on the frets wouldn’t move. I would describe a typical Patti song as propulsive: she starts soft and slow, the engine picks up pace and by the end she is almost shouting. There is also an underlying attitude, a defiance, in her lyrics. We found ourselves in the audience chanting “Gandhi, Gandhi” (I think it was), and she dedicated her encore, “Power to the People,” to the new left-wing government of Greece.   As I  listened to the concert I thought about my previous blog, proclaiming Chrissie Hynde the number one female rock vocalist, with Patti Smith in the back of my mind. Chrissie’s range is greater, her hits more numerous, and I found myself dancing joyously much more often. But essentially, Patti Smith is a punk rocker, great but limited; Chrissie Hynde is rock’n’roll.