Sunday, August 12, 2007
Patti Smith and Duende
The poet Lorca has spoken of duende, a word sometimes translated as "primal earth magic" that has only recently begun it's migration northward to enter our language. I've always understood it to mean the experience one has of a performer who seems somehow rooted in the earth itself, who seems to channel the power and groundedness of the universal through themselves so as to somehow have it resemble a fucking freight train as it hits you between the eyes and sends chills up the back of your spine.
Patti Smith, last night at the Showbox, had duende to spare. The first few songs were knocked out nicely. I thought, based on her Redondo Beach warm up, that this might just be a night of familiar tunes delivered with professionalism and polish. I'd have been OK with that. I mean, anyone born in 1946 who can still hop up on stage and be a credibly sexy rock & roller deserves respect. Looking around the crowd last night, at 46 I may easily have represented the statistical mean.
But Patti Smith is nobody's fucking nostalgia act.
The moment of lift-off arrived three songs into the set, when she picked up a soprano clarinet and started honking waves of gorgeous dissonance into the microphone as the band launched into Hendrix's Are You Experienced. From there, the show never came back down, and I don't recall the last time I saw a crowd so completely slain by anyone. She was transcendent.
For a moment, as hundreds of forty and fifty somethings stomped their way with Patti through Gloria, I thought the floor was going to give way and that's how I was going to die. It would have been a stupid but happy ending to a short, charmed life.
Other highlights for me included an absolutely gorgeous version of We Three, and her scorching close with Rock & Roll Nigger, the outsider rock anthem of all time.
The sweetest moment came with the Nirvana cover, off her new album Twelve, which was simply beautiful and, again, delivered with great duende. The video from a show last April gives a sense — especially in its last few minutes — of last night, but you also have to imagine a more rocked up band, joined by REM's Peter Buck, and the crowd screaming back "hello, hello, hello, hello" loud enough to match.
Smith, whose remarkable life includes a relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe that extended through his tragic death from AIDS, was a great admirer of Kurt Cobain and was angered by his suicide. She told a reporter from Rolling Stone, "When you watch someone you care for fight so hard to hold onto their life, then see another person just throw their life away, I guess I had less patience for that."
Below is a clip from the 70s that I love, wherein Patti pogoes. Ask the Angels.