Give Me That Old School Religion, Part 1

WHAT: Patti Smith and Her Band
WHEN: Tuesday, June 15, 2004
WHERE: House of Blues, New Orleans

OK, so the impetus to see Patti Smith came about with relatively no warning, little advance notice. I was minding my own business, returning home from dropping my daughter off at summer Driving School, and listening to WWOZ which is one of the benefits of living in New Orleans (although you can now access this listener-supported station anywhere in the world, thanks to the Internet) – a jazz and heritage Music station that plays the Music of its own geographic location (as opposed, I guess, to college radio stations that depending on where you live, may or may not have much local original Music to support).

It was the tail-end of the first afternoon show, and I caught part of an interview in progress. The voice of the person being interviewed and what she was saying I immediately recognized as Patti Smith. Well, it wouldn’t have been hard to guess. There are, unfortunately, too few women in Music who are willing to pontificate on the philosophical and political implications of corporate America and its ultimate affect on the viability and substance of rock and roll. There aren’t very many men who talk that way, either. Maybe Lou Reed. To make a long story somewhat shorter, one of the things that Patti was passionately describing was that rock and roll belongs to the people, not to the corporations, and it’s about time we took it back. She wondered about the marketing of pop stars as punk icons, and also compared the corporate control of the major airwaves to a government administration that had not been elected. OK, so she and I agree politically on a great number of things.

It was not hard to convince stardances and her best friend of 25 years (whose birthday we needed something for, anyway), who came of age during the late 70s and like me knew who Patti Smith WAS, that it was essential that we attend the show.

Cut to the bar, prior to the show. The bartender (a young woman probably in her mid-20s) asked us (because, I guess, we looked like we would know), “There’s Patti Smith and Patty Smythe. Are they the same?” This is, mind you, a bartender at the House of Blues.

Short Explanation: Patty Smythe, 80s. Patti Smith, 70s. Patti Smith not married to John McEnroe. Patty Smythe probably doesn’t know Lou Reed. Patti Smith came first. Patti Smith would probably never duet with Don Henley. And so on. Of course, we knew enough to set her and the barbacks straight on the issues. LOL.

The stage room at the House of Blues is a great size to see a three to five piece band. You can get close enough (in fact, without too much trouble you can kiss the stage) to see everything clearly, to make eye contact. But there is enough back area by the bar to get some air, and the balcony affords a view of the throng from the safety of some distance. The House of Blues itself is at times, however, a bit creepy. There’s a preoccupation with death; a lot of RIPs, tombstone-like relief lighting, combination kitsch-revival sloganeering, and the underlying presence of religion gone awry. The combination of voodoo and hoodoo, but both given a Hollywood veneer, ya know. But the way they have it set up, you enter down an “alley” and step down into the club.

I can liken the show itself to a religious service, particularly given the intro provided by walking through the HOB to the stage room. Prior to the first number (there was no opening act), there was a pretty constant mid-level hum of chatter, laughter, meet-and-greet conversation. In the pre-curtain minutes, you could see that there were distinct crowd clusters in the audience:

First, the folks that had been Patti Smith fans since Patti Smith became Patti Smith. The older set, the ones who were former punks, now grown up along with Patti. These were of both sexes, and could be distinguished by the fact that they, unlike most of the rest of the audience, actually were dancing. These you could associate with the people at church who are there to hear the sermon and apply it directly, at that moment, to their lives.

Second, the folks that had been converted to their current politico-social framework as a result of Patti Smith. This is not the same as the first group, in that the first group ALREADY were converted when they encountered Patti Smith. They worshipped, so to speak, Patti’s gods; whereas the Patti converts worship Patti. Of course, these can be easily identified by the intense expressions on their faces as they strain to hear every single word that drips, drawls, screams, croons, or whispers from Patti’s mouth. These people DO NOT dance. They are seemingly non-affected by the medium in which the message is delivered, and show concern only the for the message (which is, of course, only half the message, and some would argue the less important half). These you could associate with the front row pew sitters who follow along in their highlighter-stained Bibles, know exactly when to shout “Amen” and somehow every week fail to appreciate that the sermon provides direct insight into the condition of their souls, and not just the poor folk back in the rear of the church.

Third, the folks that understand that to be considered alternative, one must be seen at a Patti Smith concert. I will not comment on this lot. These are the people who go to church to get a date.

Fourth, the significant others of the second and third groups. These are the people that end up as the dates or life partners of “religious” church attendees, who find the attitude of constant self-righteousness a little over the top, but basically are too busy or cowardly to make much of a stink about it. Besides, they enjoy the barbeque pork picnics and other social aspects, so long as they don’t turn into crusades to convert the surrounding picnic areas.

Fifth, those folks obviously not interested in whether Patti Smith or Patty Smythe were playing, as long as they were allowed to enter the club and party at the House of Blues, drinking copious amounts of alchocol, seeing and being seen. These are the people who attend church simply for the free food and drink. Doesn’t matter what’s on the table, or what kind of sermon they have to sit through to get it.

Sufficed to say, the best time was really to be had by group one; of which, our party of three was a member. It was obvious that these crowd cells would gravitate towards each other.

I’m tired of writing this already, and the show hasn’t even started yet. LOL. More later.

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