"Fuck the Oscars—I win!"
So declared Patti Smith from the stage at the Crystal Ballroom last Tuesday, bragging that she'd received, right from the hand of Kevin Shields, the very first copy of the new My Bloody Valentine album. But she immediately followed by saying she didn't mean it, that she watches the Oscars every year, and loves Jennifer Lawrence. To prove it, she pulled from her pocket an official Katniss Everdeen mail-order ring.
So, first she mentions The Hunger Games, and later, before the encore, that night's full Hunger Moon, an occasion to incite the sold-out Crystal Ballroom crowd to howl, growl and bark along with the canine-inspired title song from her killer 2012 album, Banga. Over the course of the evening, she performed a total of four tunes from her most recent record, the strength of which let them blend seamlessly with the classic material that made up the rest of the show.
And what a show it was—significantly shorter than her already-legendary (at least in my crowd) 2000 and 2001 Crystal appearances. Still a sumptuous meal, just, perhaps, just without dessert. Of course, she's now a woman of 66, but you wouldn't have known it from her appearance or energy level—except for how carefully she climbed off and back on the stage for a visit into the audience, while longtime collaborator, guitarist Lenny Kaye, performed a rockin' Nuggets medley. (I might mention that she actually rocked out alongside me, mirroring my movements, then handed me a guitar pick before returning to the stage. For reals.)
Patti initially took the stage to already-rafter-rattling applause, grinning when she asked, "You know what that sound means? It's Portland!" And that was no "Hello Cleveland" moment, as she mocked that very phrase later on after marveling that a certain song was "really a stadium moment." What can we say, she loves her some us. Repeatedly through the night she referred to her close relationship to our town, saying, for instance, that the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, the occasion of her last visit to town, was "one of the 10 most amazing experiences of my life." Both she and Lenny enthused about what a cool place the Crystal is, Lenny noting the Electric Prunes poster on one of the walls while introducing the aforementioned Nuggets mix (namely, the Strangeloves' "Night Time," "We Ain't Got Nothin' Yet" by the Blues Magoos, the Heartbreakers' "Born to Lose", and the Seeds' titanic "Pushin' Too Hard"; Lenny Kaye curated the original Nuggets compilation that re-introduced '60s garage rock to later generations of music fans). And toward the end of the night, freshly back from overseas touring and referencing how our greatest musical prophets are so often without honor on our own shores, she said, "Thank you, Portland, for reminding us we're not just a European band."
Having recently toured as an opening act for Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Patti sang Neil's tender ballad, "It's a Dream," for one of the sweetest moments of the night. And when she forgot the lyrics to one verse, only to remember them by the close of the song, she performed her poetic duty by reciting the entire beautiful stanza to the crowd.
Other highlights included: the incantatory, acoustic "Ghost Dance"; Banga's tender, mournful ballad, "Maria"; "Beneath the Southern Cross," from her 1995 comeback album, Gone Again, which evolved into walls of noise; "Pissing in a River," in which she fully "lost it," abandoning herself to the shamanic zenith that only she and few others (I'm talking Jim Morrison, Bob Marley and that ilk) can access on stage. The main set ended with "Gloria," where, following the final spelling out of the title, Patti spelled out "P-U-S-S-Y R-I-O-T," urging the crowd not to forget the girls who were jailed "just for singing a spiritual song of revolution." The encore consisted of the aforementioned "Banga," her anthem "People Have the Power," and the recitation "Babelogue," introducing an explosive "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger". At the end of that song, for which Patti had strapped on a Stratocaster, she pulled off the guitar strings one by one, invoking Katniss one more time before—with a great deal of effort—plucking the last, lowest string, bow-like, until she tore it off to unleash a howl of feedback which continued to resonate as the band left the stage.
Highlights? Hell, there weren't any lowlights. Patti loves Portland, and you can be assured the relationship is mutual—and definitely long-term.