If you’d had two gin and tonics and squinted real hard, it could have been 1976. Patti Smith, blissful sneer and all, was onstage with longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye, laying into the mike like an angry teenager: “G. L. O. R. I. A. Glooorria!”
She must be 60 now, and her hair hangs long, beautifully fuck-you-frizzy and gray, but she hasn’t simmered down over time one bit. Something crystallized inside Smith, and it’s more than a fancy for menswear. In a black suit jacket and skinny tie, she strummed and stamped and spit, a sort of emotional-cultural time capsule, genuine, inspired, pissed off and poetic. She still believes you can change the world with a guitar — something that’s decidedly lacking in the current musical-political landscape.
One more gin and tonic later and it might as well have been1976. “People have the power,” Smith sang. Head-banging earth mothers raised their fists and chanted in unison. “Sooo worth the $250,” shrieked the young woman next to me before letting loose with a flirty little dance that sent her floral skirt whirling. But unlike back in the time of Horses, this show featured the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea on bass and Smith’s 19-year-old daughter, Jesse, on keyboards. And it was very 2006 when one of the aforementioned earth mothers’ BlackBerrys rang during “Ghandi.”
“Shoot, I should get that,” she said, scurrying off to the patio.
The event, held at the Edendale Grill, was an intimate benefit for the nonprofit Silver Lake Conservatory of Music, founded by Flea to provide music lessons for underprivileged kids. It was the school’s second annual “Hullabaloo,” and it included an all-night open bar and Southern-style barbecue on the front patio, a silent auction on the back patio and performances throughout the night by everyone from conservatory students to world-renowned sax player Joshua Redman. Whereas last year’s Hullabaloo was somewhat refined, with tray-passed hors d’oeuvres, ice sculptures and a melodious set by Tracy Chapman, this year’s felt more communal.
“Down home,” said chef Justin Cropper, who’d put out Carolina-style pulled pork sandwiches, heaping mounds of potato salad, buttered corn on the cob and barbecued baked beans among other things. The guest list was completely devoid of celebrities. Mostly, it was friends and supporters of the conservatory, parents of students, and a handful of kids. The grill sent billows of aromatic smoke out onto the street (the valet was rubbing his eyes as I drove up), a scrappy-haired preteen chased his friend through the crowd. Even the silent auction – which could have gotten ugly with a $3,000 Gibson electric guitar on the block – was friendly (“No, you take it.” “No, you play — you can have it, really . . .”). The whole thing felt more like the Fourth of July or a family reunion than a punk rock show.
In that vein, I hung out with both the hippest and least hip person there — Flea’s mom. Moms will be moms no matter how glam the setting. And Flea’s, a spry, silver-haired suburbanite from Calabasas, went on about how proud she was of her son. “Mostly for the good and decent, kind person he is,” she said, clinking the ice in her drink.