Patti Smith: Bowery Ballroom 31 December 2011

Happy New Year to me! I had the most magical New Year’s Eve and I know that 2012 is going to be a good year because I was blessed by Patti Smith at midnight.

For the last fourteen years Patti has played the Bowery Ballroom for New Year’s Eve and her birthday the night before (plus the night before that) and, when I had hours to kill before Lucero hit the stage on December 30th at the Brooklyn Bowl, I texted Kenny (my friend and sound guy at Bowery Ballroom) and told him to have fun with Patti. As he does every year, Kenny invited me to come see her and I was going to say no, as I do every year (because I hate being in the middle of the madness on NYE), but then he mentioned that this was going to be her last year so I had to say yes.

When I got to the BB, Kenny and the sound crew were having dinner next door (a new restaurant owned by one of the BB owners) so I hung around with them for a bit while they finished up. It was a lot of fun listening to audio geeks – something I haven’t done in a long time. Kenny and I walked into the club, where it was already getting a little crazy and I got to hang out in the sound booth along with another friend of his, Patti’s (and Bob Dylan’s) sound guy Pablo and the lighting guy. Despite the set list sitting right in front of me on the board there were still a few surprises. It was joy to watch Pablo work – it almost made me want to be a sound engineer again. Every time there was a change in the set it was cool watching him re-set and go with the flow. Watching the crew break down after the show cured me of wanting to do sound again – the band gets to leave and you get to stay behind for two more hours and work. But I’m glad I stayed because when Patti left she walked inches past me and said goodbye – I just had a goofy smile on my face – and Kenny and I got to hang out and talk for hours about music and other stuff. And Pablo came by to say goodbye and blessed each of us.

Apparently the first night had gone very well. But the second night had not and Patti talked about it frequently during her set. The NYE show was being broadcast and she told them she was glad they hadn’t heard the show the night before. She also apologized to audience members who had been there the night before. I can’t imagine it was that bad but Patti felt terrible about it.

Of course we got lot of stories. Before “Space Monkey” she told us about the monkey that was stolen from the zoo and the song was dedicated to Mr. Bananas. During “Drifter’s Escape” she forgot the lyrics and afterwards told us that she got lost thinking about how Robert Mapplethorpe had given her Dylan’s album and how she played it over and over and over. Before “Don’t Say Nothing” she read Ginsberg’s “Footnote to Howl.” There was a cry for “Redondo Beach” and Patti explained that the set list had been carefully worked out. But then she joked about an ambulance being outside because the guy sounded like he was going to die if the request wasn’t met – and then a woman called out the song and Patti told her she would sing it to her in the woman’s bathroom. Instead she sang it for all of us. “Pissing in a River” was dedicated to Amy Winehouse. “Around the World in 80 Days” (yes from the movie) was dedicated to Elizabeth Taylor. At the last minute Patti added U2’s “Until the End of the World” to the set because she loves the song (it was her contribution to a U2 cover project). There were songs about and dedicated to Detroit. And there was a lot of talk about Occupy Wall Street.

“If you dug it, then it’s a nugget” Of course that was said by the great Lenny Kaye (guitar) just before the band launched into a lot of older songs ending with “My Generation” with everyone taking a turn on vocals. Jay Dee Daugherty was on drums, Tony Shanahan on bass and keyboards, and Jackson Smith on guitar (her daughter Jesse was in the audience).

At midnight this guy came out with a bottle of champagne and counted down with Patti and I was trying to figure out who it was. Then during the encore he came out to sing a song (at Patti’s request) and as soon as he spoke I realized it was Michael Stipe. A couple of years ago I watched Stipe sit at Patti’s feet as she sang at an REM tribute concert at Carnegie Hall. This time, Patti smiled while Stipe sang and they danced during the instrumental break. The song was “Wichita Lineman” and Stipe was having difficulty with the vocals but after the dance he had his back to the audience and just sang to Patti and he sounded great. When the song was over they kissed and it was magic.

It was magic at midnight when we all toasted. And it was magic at the end as she blessed us all and told us we each have to the power within us. I didn’t take any photographs that night. I had the perfect view but attempting to capture any one moment would have been in vain. You can’t capture magic.

Set List

  • Looking for You (I Was)
  • 25th Floor
  • Space Monkey
  • Cash
  • Drifter’s Escape (Bob Dylan cover)
  • My Blakean Year
  • Beneath the Southern Cross
  • We Three
  • Footnote to Howl (Allen Ginsberg poem)
  • Don’t Say Nothing
  • Redondo Beach
  • Summer Cannibals
  • Because the Night
  • Pissing in a River
  • Peaceable Kingdom
  • People Have the Power (the midnight song – the countdown was midsong)
  • Medley
  • Wichita Lineman (Michael Stipe covering Glen Campbell/Jimmy Webb)
  • Around the World in 80 Days (from the movie)
  • Until the End of the World (U2 cover)
  • The Last Time (Rolling Stones cover)
  • Not Fade Away (Buddy Holly cover)
  • Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger
  • By Carene Lydia Lopez