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.
The Nuggets closed with some weird-ass thing I didn’t recognize (turns out it was a Mothers of Invention song, should’ve known), followed by “Psychotic Reaction” and then “In the Midnight Hour.” Then there was a longish interval during which I watered up, rested my knees, and possibly bitched a bit about the wait. Well, nobody’s perfect.
But at last the lights went down and, after reading a poem from a vinyl copy of Horses, Ms. Smith launched into “Gloria.” It transpired that they would be doing the album in its entirety – which I had not previously known, but was not displeased to learn. About a minute into “Redondo Beach,” though, the music suddenly stopped. Apparently someone had passed out near the front of the stage, and Patti – who is not just a rock star, but also a mom – silenced the band and called for medical attention. Only when she was satisfied that the situation was under control did she resume the song: “Let’s pick it up in the second verse.”
The rest of Horses ran apace, concluding with “Elegie,” during which Patti read a list of the dead old (Jimi, Janice, Jim Morrison), medium (Fred “Sonic” Smith, Lou Reed), and new (Ornette Coleman, Lemmy). Anyone who didn’t have a heart of purest stone got a little misty during this part.
By this point it was maybe 11:40, so the remaining interval was filled with a few greatest hits – “Pissing in a River,” “Dancing Barefoot” – followed by a rousing rendition of the “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” theme song, during which the band was accompanied on keyboards by Patti’s daughter Jesse. Somewhere in there the crowd serenaded both Patti (DOB 12/30/46) and her longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye (DOB 12/27/46) with renditions of “Happy Birthday,” and Patti responded to the repeated “We love you, Patti”s with “I love you too. Why the fuck else would I be out here playing for you on New Year’s Eve?”
When the time came there was a countdown, then the balloon drop, and there was much rejoicing. Balloons popped and floated all around for a long moment of chaotic revelry.
After awhile the show started up again with, appropriately enough, “Because the Night.” I thought that might be it, and that would have been a perfectly fine high point on which to end. Instead we got “Beneath the Southern Cross” and “People Have the Power,” the latter serving as a fine reminder that a punk is really just a hippie in a protective coating.
And there again, dayenu – it would have been enough, but there was an encore too as the cherry on top. After another poem (setlist.com tells me it was “Footnote to Howl”), the band kicked into “My Generation,” long their favorite bonus track. As a last statement, Patti picked up an electric guitar and started squeezing out seemingly random bursts of noise, then tore off the strings, producing an anarchic feedback howl that was still ringing out as we made our way to the door and collected our posters.
We Ubered home and passed out. That old lady had plain worn us out.