An Icon at The Bowery Ballroom

December 31st, 2009

Patti Smith and Her Band – The Bowery Ballroom – 12/30/09

050331_artspattismith_vlwidecBefore she’d even stepped onstage last night at The Bowery Ballroom, for the second of three consecutive sold-out shows, Patti Smith had already had a big night. The documentary Dream of Life, which follows more than 10 years of her life and career, was making its television debut on PBS. And perhaps even more exciting, it was her 63rd birthday. Throughout the set, Smith was in great spirits, starting out with strong renditions of “Land” and “Gloria,” from her debut album, Horses. She constantly waved to the crowd, grinning, as if we were old friends, casually chatting us up about her love for doughnuts, a strange bug-related dream, her favorite toothpaste, plus many other non sequiturs. Smith’s daughter, Jesse, came out midway with a cake, and we all sang to Smith before she blew out the candles.

Although the show was a great celebration, Smith spent a significant portion of it reminiscing and honoring friends and loved ones who had passed away. In some cases, she read select passages from her forthcoming book, Just Kids, which depicted memories of them, one of which was a touching passage about her parents that set the tone for her song “Mother Rose.” Stories and songs were also devoted to Smith’s friends Robert Mapplethorpe, Jim Carroll and Vic Chesnutt, who had sadly passed just days earlier. Smith also worked in a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” complete with props: She donned MJ’s signature white glove, but then put on another one, explaining, “I get two.”

That Smith’s nostalgia for her late friends would surface in the midst of this happy occasion was understandable. I am sure many of those in the crowd were missing friends and family as well, wishing they could have been there to experience her show with us. But I am certain our departed friends would have been pleased to see us last night, fans from many generations, all joyfully singing along as Patti Smith did a killer version of “Because the Night,” an excellent way to end a decade. —Alena Kastin