Entry 0108: Patti Smith plays Horses in Cleveland

LP: Horses by Patti Smith

1975 Arista AL 4066

Favorite Track: Land

LP: Horses by Patti Smith

1977? Arista AL 4066, reissue

Favorite Track: Land

The chill of the icy morning air woke me up a minute before my alarm went off. Daylight saving time had robbed me a precious hour of unconsciousness. I still hadn’t packed. My mouth felt fuzzy, but tolerable. I hoped my body odor was the same. I was bound to Cleveland to see Patti Smith play her seminal album Horses in its entirety. Horses is everything to me. This album changed my life more than probably any other album besides Smash by the Offspring, which was the album that made me fall in love music. But Patti Smith saved my taste in music.

When I first decided to collect records, I thought I was going to amass a small sample of jazz albums. I had an idea about having music to listen to while cooking plus realized that I could name five or six jazz musicians but have never heard any of their music (or at least not consciously). So I set off to the record store and bought a few jazz albums and then I happened to find London Calling by the Clash (one of my all-time favorites) and Horses by Patti Smith. Back at home, I listened to the jazz and enjoyed it. But it was when I put on Horses and Gloria started up with its sneering provocation of “Jesus died for somebody sins but not mine” that I knew what I had to do: I had to collect punk albums. Sorry jazz. You are wonderful and needed, but punk is my soul.

Sitting in the car in the back seat, my feet kept tapping awkward rhythms to the alternative playlist coming from the speakers. I was with two wonderful co-workers on the road trip of our lifetimes or, at least, it felt that heavy at the time. The father-daughter duo bantered in the front and I laughed along with them, but my mind kept spacing out during the long stretches of Ohio farmland. I couldn’t wait to eat. A beer would be the best. Actually, just get me out of this car already! I’ve pulled some super long car trips in my childhood, but I’m secretly starting to get real antsy in them. Getting old means feeling like you are going strange–maybe not crazy in its full sense of mental illness, but that feeling you cannot tolerate certain annoyances as easily any more.

We arrive on good time and with plenty to kill. Being a cold Sunday, we have few places to go within the Playhouse Square area. After a cozy and necessary Irish meal and beer (I had a black and tan for the first time in probably 7 years), we took an Uber to A Separate Reality record store where all three of us scored some dream records. My haul were nice original copies of Tim Buckley’s self-titled and Lorca album, the Bush Tetras’ Ritual EP, and the Live at CBGB’s compilation with Mink Deville’s Let Me Dream if I Want to (a song I love so much from that No Thanks punk rock CD box set). On the way back to the hotel, I imagined my next day off: a bottle of wine and all these new records.

The State Theater is beautiful. A Discordian miracle happen: I had bought my tickets separately than the Rileys. I only vaguely remembered where they sat. I picked a random seat. We were seated by the polite staff only for us to discover that I picked the seat directly behind theirs. Hail Eris! Then the lights dimmed and applause thundered from the 1,000+ audience members. Patti Smith strolled on stage dressed in her black vest and pants, a slight hop in her step as if she got some really good news right before entering stage left. Lenny looked the same as on the back of the album except for the obligatory white hair of venerable age. Then the piano chords rang out and Patti sings “Jesus died for somebody’s sins…” The place is already going nuts.

“Gloria” was a wonderful opener just like on the album. At first, I think they had Lenny Kaye’s guitar too low, but as the night went on, the more impressed I became with him. It’s so easy to get distracted by Patti’s frantic lyrics coming-at-you with beautiful imagery and brain-exploding meanings that the power of the music is present but not demanding of your ear. But if you listen to the individual instruments: damn, this is a tight band. Which they displayed with a relaxed version of “Redondo Beach”, which made me think of Pina Coladas. Then came the first vocal challenge of the night: “Birdland”. How was she going to do this? She did it with power in her voice. Anyone who believes that you should only see a band during their prime time or that no band is worth seeing 30 years later is a shit head. Patti Smith was as powerful now as she was then. Maybe, possibility, she could be better. When she hit the chorus for “Birdland” even the most prolific Patti Smith hated would have melted and been moved by her performance. “Free Money” rocked on and the band seemed to only get more energetic as the night wore on. As soon as that song ended, Patti quipped, “That was the end of Side A.This is where you physically flip the record to side B.” Us vinyl nuts found that funny, at least.

“Kimberly” is one of my secret favorite songs off that album. Patti told the audience about “Break it Up” which she wrote with Tom Verlaine of Television and how it is about Jim Morrison and his lack of grave at the time in France. “Land” well, do I even need to say how powerful, floor thumping, and volcanic explosion of catharsis and improv that had everyone on their feet dancing awkwardly in the confined seating areas of the State Theatre. For “Elegie” she sang the names of the musically dead while allowing people to add their own names. At that point, I think most people thought the concert was over. But they were not done. We were treated to “Dancing Barefoot” (my favorite non-Horses Patti Smith song), “Ghost Dance”, “Citizen Ship” and “Pissing in the River” from Radio Ethiopia!!! The hall reverberated with the magic of the band’s talent. Someone threw a Jerry Garcia shirt on stage and Patti launched into a rant against Jerry Seinfeld only to realize she misread the shirt. She also told us what she bought at the store: turmeric drink and a pear is all I remember.

And then the encore happened. After making us wait and clap and whistle and shout (like a professional) Patti came out and they tore into a ten-minuted rendition of “My Generation”–their famous cover that destroy’s the Who’s version in classic pass-the-torch-and-burn-the-past fashion. Patti even shredded on a guitar, wailing mad feedback like a proto-Kim Gordon and ending the cacophony by ripping all six strings off.

I had to immediately have food and a bourbon after that. For two hours, I was in heaven.