Bob Dylan/Patti Smith
Beacon Theater, New York

by Clinton Heylin

Date: Sat, 13 Jan 1996 16:34:06 +0000
From: Tiernan Henry (HENRY.TIERNAN@UCG.IE)
Subject: beacon bob

Well, sit yerselves down. The February MOJO is out, and there it is, on pages 88-89, the review of Dylan and Patti at the Beacon. And a couple of rather tasty photos too (with a particulary fine one on page 71 of the duetting couple).

The only possible problem? It was written by Clinton Heylin.

Admittedly, there's more here on Patti's sets than on Bob's, but old Clinton wasn't in a seasonal mood.

(Any typos are mine.)

Bob Dylan/Patti Smith
Beacon Theater, New York

"Whatcha gonna do when death comes creeping in your room?" wrote Bob Dylan in 1962. "If you cannot bring good news, then don't bring any," sings Patti Smith in today's version of The Wicked Messenger. Dylan's words, with the sort of vocal spin only Smith can bring, open proceedings in Boston's Orpheum Theater, the third of 10 East Coast dates on what - Dylan having given the nod - they're calling The Paradise Lost Tour.

Dylan looks on from the wings, recognising competition when he hears it. Welcoming an errant muse, he had pursued an unmilling Patti to do this tour (and Dylan never tours in December) until he got an answer he liked. He seems genuinely to be enjoying himself. Perhaps he still recognises an artist who takes chances even if he himself has forsaken this particular option.

Seven years into Bob Dylan's Never Ending Tour, ever-smaller halls and staler sets have been the inevitable result. And then along comes Patti Smith, a self-confessed Dylan apostle, whose return to the stage this summer, albeit in low-key, acoustic guise, encouraged fans to believe a fully-fledged electric incarnation might be imminent (particulary after an impromptu electric set at this year's Lollapalooza New York jamboree). As if this pairing could not kickstart one's saliva glands, along comes her familiar troupe of master musicians: Lenny Kaye, Jay Dee Daugherty, and "the man with the bum leg", Tom Verlaine. (The latter's Jazzmaster has recently been put to the test at Electric Lady, to where Patti has returned two decades after cutting Horses, for only her second album in 16 years.) Nor is that all: Smith devotee Michael Stipe has been dancing attendance on her and comes - so rumour has it - within a whisker of completing a million-dollar quartet live on stage.

Playing down the bill to an iconoclast like Mr D has given Patti the freedom to run amok and dance the barefoot electric, the smartest way to retrace one's steps. Already Patti's tribute to Jerry Garcia, Not Fade Away, has taken on a life of its own. Night One it was merely a prelude to an animated People Have The Power, but after Verlaine suggested that it might make a good-time closer, it rounded off the 50-minute set with Verlaine picking out lines worthy of Coltrane, while Patti slipped into a familiar trance. Suddenly she was telling a tale of trying to break free from vines entangling her legs, trying to return to that land of a thousand raps. Each night a different tale: in Boston a happy tale of sea and sky and treasure; last night in sleepy Bethlehem her animation was in strong contrast to the audience from Nodsville, until finally she just knelt at Verlaine's feet and implored him to express the inexpressible.

I had forgotten how Patti rides her moods like a charioteer, her refusal to concede to the audience their sense of who they want her to be. Yes, she has given them the hits: Because The Night, Dancing Barefoot, a rattleshake Ghost Dance and a blistering Rock'N'Roll Nigger (one night she knocks over her drink and spends the rest of the song crawling on her hands and knees wiping the stage like a good housekeeper, unashamed, she admits, to clean "Mr Dylan's stage" for him. Even, one night apiece, My Generation and Land. But the highlights have been the new songs: a Southern Cross (in Bethlehem) that inspired some of Verlaine's most poignant pickings; About A Boy, Patti's heartrending 'tribute' to Kurt Cobain and her most free-form work since Radio Ethiopia; and Mortal Shoes, sadly dropped after Boston, as the more antsy elements of the audience refused to join her in the field. Embracing the risk of it all, she even sang, first night, mid-song, pre-jam, "I don't know what's gonna happen now, but something's gonna happen..." Cue Verlaine and Kaye knocking antlers. At heart, an American artist.

Dylan's set the first night in New York - a bonus show announced at four day's notice thanks to Michael Jackson's near fatal bout of Earth Song publicity - certainly included its fair share of adventurous (ie post-1966) choices: Tears Of Rage, Silvio, Jokerman. But his band are just too set in their ways (and their ways have always been awry), Dylan simply too undisciplined to work up new songs, new arrangements - except on the spot. Result: chaos, and not the exciting kind, either.

The second New York show three days later, lacks even that focus. The moments in Dylan's set to remember - and there'll always be a couple - invariably come unplugged: To Ramona in Boston, Desolation Row in Bethlehem (complete with the never-these-days "Praise be to Nero's Neptune" verse); best of all is a second encore tonight of One Too Many Mornings.

Patti had already concluded a brimmingly confident set with a simple acoustic rendition of the song for her late husband Fred "Sonic" Smith, Farewell Reel ("When it rains, it rains on me"). But she has one more duty to perform. Since the second Boston show, she has been joining Dylan and his band at the end of hsi acoustic set to duet on the oft-overlooked Dark Eyes (the stand-out moment at Patti's recent acoustic shows). As Dylan unravels the guitar lines, and Bucky Baxter applies a layer of laptop steel, Patti sings the first half of each verse solo, the second half with Dylan. And it's great each and every night. They are singing the song as an end unto itself, oblivious to us, the band, their history. Just them, eyes locked on each other, Dylan coming in too hard on the first verse and easing himself back down to Patti's pitch, the words now lost in the wind. Three thousand faces at their feet, but all they see are dark eyes.

Clinton Heylin.