This New Year’s Eve found us at the Fillmore in San Francisco, where the evening’s entertainment was provided by Patti Smith and her group, the, um, Patti Smith Group. (It’s possible that they’re not actually calling themselves that anymore. I’m fuzzy about a lot of things from that night – not, as is usually the case, because of overindulgence, but because details seem beside the point. It’s all about feeling with Patti.)
Having purchased our tickets on StubHub and ridden from our AirBnb to the show in an Uber, we were feeling like fully habituated citizens of the 21st century, but the feeling inside was rife with nostalgia. Old hippies and aging punk rockers intermingled, sometimes within the same body. The pre-show soundsystem rocked Television, the Dead Boys, the Ramones, the MC5, and Lou Reed (“Satellite of Love,” sounding even better than usual as we stood staring at the net full of balloons hanging from the ceiling). It was a groovy scene.
And it got even groovier when four hippies wandered onstage and kicked into “Eight Miles High.” This turned out to be Patti’s backing musicians, who for the occasion I believe were calling themselves “The Nuggets,” and were going to play set of classics from 1967. Which got me to thinking…hmmm…1967…wouldn’t it be great to hear Patti Smith belt out “White Rabbit”? Really, it seemed like too much to ask for, especially after the band followed “Get It Together” and “Last Train to Clarksville” with a ripping version of “Somebody to Love.”
Oh well, I thought, there goes their Jefferson Airplane moment. But then, without even waiting for the last notes to fade, Jay Dee Dougherty lit into that martial drumbeat. A gray-haired lady in a hoodie appeared at the back of the stage, and a big, dumb smile appeared on my face.
At the end of the song, when Patti repeated the command to “Feed your head!” four times instead of two and the whole place sung along, I got chills. If that was all we’d gotten for the night, I would have been perfectly content. But that was just the beginning.
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