|Photo by Steven Klein|
PATTI SMITH & HER BAND
at the John Anson Ford Theater, August 24
Okay, so she’s not God. And while we’re at it, there’s never going to be a Horses 2. Patti Smith’s last five albums, including the recent Trampin’, have gracefully laid her poetry against soothing, occasionally stirring contempo-adult melodies, with only the occasional foray into the seething bombast that made her early work so revolutionary.
Under a few stars, Smith and company — longtime guitarist/stick figure Lenny Kaye, drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, keyboard and bass player Tony Shanahan and guitarist Oliver Ray — arrived onstage, their leader looking like one of the guys in old jeans, straggly hair and a torn white T-shirt with a Magic Markered peace sign. The set began with the spiritual-like title tune from Trampin’, followed by a short series of new songs, including the impossibly sweet “Mother Rose” for her late mother, with photos of Mama Smith projected on the back screen.
For “Break It Up,” Smith updated lyrics about “the fucking president,” then the parents and their kids in the front rows got up and danced — Smith conferred with security guards for permission — to “Space Monkey.” An incendiary “25th Floor” led to total heck breaking out as maybe 30 people walked up to the stage, nearly trampling picnickers’ edamame salad and fancy olives.
“Move your fuckin’ ass and dance,” Smith ordered, then ad-libbed “Save the Last Dance for Me” as cutely as possible, much to the Ford staff’s displeasure. “We better do what he says, or it’s gonna get like Altamont here,” Smith warned as a concertgoer’s Evian water took a spill. She dedicated the loosey-goosey “Summer Cannibals” to Julia Child and segued with one of the all-time best rock songs ever, “Free Money.”
Smith’s soft crooning of the new “Peaceable Kingdom” united the crowd like a mother singing a lullaby to her 1,000 wee ones. “Gandhi” and “People Have the Power” conveyed her current anger at world events, and the classic dirge “Pissing in a River” was truly haunting.
After an encore that included “my little hit” — “Because the Night” — Smith picked up a clarinet and blew, quite badly, yet it was somehow the coolest thing in the world.
CURIOSA TOUR, FEATURING THE CURE, INTERPOL, COOPER TEMPLE CLAUSE, THE RAPTURE
at the Home Depot Center, August 27
When the Cure’s Robert Smith momentarily put down his guitar to look at the audience, we remembered what it was like seeing him for the first time only last year at KROQ’s Inland Invasion, when this gentle soul, hands crossed over chest, seemed almost too timid to approach the stage front and accept his fans’ offerings of flowers and stuffed animals. Hot Topic could market a line of dolls after him; we have the Curiosa tour instead.
We politely warmed up our seats to some of the handpicked, Cure-inspired opening bands. Cooper Temple Clause’s cover of Depeche Mode’s “World in My Eyes” immediately got our attention. And the Rapture (cowbell alert!) finally got the crowd on its feet with Luke Jenner’s Marc Almond–ish vocal stylings, especially on “Sister Saviour.” But once dusk settled, Interpol hit the stage and the shit hit the fan. Interpol zipped through songs mostly from their 2002 debut, and just as we were enjoying a tender moment with ourselves during the band’s beautiful ode to their hometown, “NYC,” the barricade in front of the pit area was kicked down, and a mad rush to the stage ensued. Why settle for a cheap seat, huh? And better for us to watch the way front man Paul Banks lights up and observes the crowd with that icy, unblinking between-verse gaze.
Despite pleas from management, it was still pretty much a seat-stealing free-for-all once the Cure entered. The band was a cucumber patch of coolness — Smith still like a tangly-haired palm tree, and bassist Simon Gallup always hunched over, knees bent — playing a two-hour, two-encore set of Disintegration-heavy selections including “Plainsong,” “Love Song” and “Pictures of You.” The swirly synthed “Play for Today” was a treat; “A Forest,” with its killer bass line, is a live staple; and “In Between Days,” that other absolutely joyous synth shiner, is a ditty no two- or four-legged being can resist dancing to. (You go, little girl, with your Members Only jacket and Belinda Carlisle moves.) We could’ve done without “Friday I’m in Love” — hey, we don’t like pigeonholing the Cure as goth, either, but that one’s just way too peppy, and it’s got way too many doot-doot-doots. We saved the appropriately titled “A Night Like This” for the teary car ride home. Only one man, who’s thankfully never outgrown his black PJs after 25 years, can do that to us.
ANIMAL COLLECTIVE, BLACK DICE,
MIA DOI TODD
at the Knitting Factory, August 28
Animal Collective’s rise within indiedom seems predetermined. Like Guided by Voices or the Elephant 6 crowd, the Brooklynites are prolific and “shrouded in mystery,” playing under goofy pseudonyms, often in costume. (Not tonight, though some raccoon masks hung from drummer Panda Bear’s kit.) Word guy Avey Tare delivered both near-pop songs and creepier freeform material in the same put-on, weird-for-weird’s-sake voice, à la Ween. Bear and Tare are the core members; touring guitarist Deacon blended into the general wooziness, while Geologist crouched downstage scrambling the proceedings through a submixer as though desperate to obscure the dorm-room jamminess of the material. Their new Sung Tongs more effectively strains ’90s lo-fi out-folk through 21st-century digital madness, but live and loud, the limitations were obvious.
The audience wouldn’t have agreed; it thinned noticeably during borough mates Black Dice’s bracing instrumental set. Too bad: Uncommunicative as Kraftwerk, in front of immense speaker cabinets that pulsed white light from within, the trio passed inventively (and seamlessly) from airy trance patterns through two-chord psych to harsh, beatless whistles and rumbles. (What’s planned, what’s improvised? Only their laptops know for sure.) How this group turned from post-hardcore scrappers to full-fledged sound boys is unclear, but more power to them, especially for closing with several minutes of the whitest noise heard since certain My Bloody Valentine tours over a decade ago.
Acoustic opener Mia Doi Todd cast her usual spell, with a voice that might come from somewhere other than her own body, and a cover of “Norwegian Wood” entirely of a piece with her own songs of regret and failed intimacy. Her poised demeanor (and picking) is so otherworldly that it’s jarring when she touches down with ours: In one new song, she shops for binoculars at Samy’s Camera, the better to search for “a window into your soul.”
at the Knitting Factory, August 7
Thanks to the Knitting Factory’s current rock-venue-as-multiplex layout, this underpublicized show was an object lesson in the ironies of being a punk rock survivor. On video monitors hanging too close to the stage in the front bar — until recently, the club’s restaurant-cyberlounge — you couldn’t miss what was afoot in the main space: A parade of interchangeable young ska bands and a mass of bobbing buzzcuts. Quite the contrast with Jon Langford’s older audience, especially when the Mekons/Waco Brothers songwriter made his own nod to Caribbean rhythms via “Joshua Gone Barbados,” an ersatz calypso penned by Cambridge folkie Eric Von Schmidt.
To their credit, Langford and his sidepersons played as though those Gen Z tykes were going ape-shit for them. Accordionist Rico Bell, sporting Love and Theft mustaches, pumped his way gamely through songs nearly two decades old (“Millionaire,” “Big Zombie”) and traded “the chest piano for the thumb piano,” as Langford quipped, on a kalimba-spiked “Work All Week.” (Bell’s opening set was much more somber, peaking with a narrative ballad concerning Irish immigrants turned singing cowboys.) Violinist Jean Cook was the trio’s secret weapon, threading long, lyrical lines through “Closing Time” and hurling double-stopped avant-barn-dance solos at everything else.
Despite the already named chestnuts, Langford’s new, non-Mekons solo work is proof that he’s just hitting his stride. The set drew on his 2002 collaboration with the Sadies (“Are You an Entertainer?”) and unrecorded material (“Buy It Now”), but the highlight was “The Country Is Young,” from this year’s All the Fame of Lofty Deeds, a bitterly funny personification of America as an ill-tempered baby: “Wipe its fat ass and buy it some toys.” Strangest choice: A stately cover of Procol Harum’s “Homburg” (“Your multilingual business friend . . .”), introduced as being by “a legendary English alternative-country band.” Pogo to that, kids.