Patti Smith Group live at Masonic Temple, Detroit, MI, 12-12-76

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Patti Smith Group live at Masonic Temple, Detroit, MI, 12-12-76

Patti Smith has never officially released an entire live show. There was the intent to do so in 1979-1980 - there’s mention of this in the media, and my late friend Holly Cara Price wrote to Beverly Smith at the fan club's post office box and received a response in October 1979 where Beverly specifically states that the band are working on putting a live record together.

Obviously this has never happened —in my upcoming book I talk about my wish that the post-RRHOF Induction release had been a live album and not Twelve, her album of covers —and the best that I can glean is that no one wants to do the work to go through everything and put something together. (This is not unique to Patti, no musician wants to do this.) They’ve always been a taping-friendly band (and now have an mostly-official archivist who is allowed to set up at the soundboard), so they feel like this has been covered.

[I get that, but most of their fans are not going to find their way through the world of live concert torrents, the tape trading infrastructure that used to exist inside fan communities is mostly dead, and I’d rather see the band make money on this kind of thing than asshole bootleggers. I get that it is a ton of work and no one in the band wants to do this work. It would be great if they could hire someone to do this work (yes, that is a hint, but I do not care who it is as long as someone does it).]

I have spent a lot of time over the years listening to these shows, and spent additional time listening and re-listening to the shows while writing the book. I listen to live concert recordings because it gives me more information about the artist and the music. I love writing about live performance but it’s one of the things that got cut from the book for space, so I’m going to be writing about live shows in this newsletter over the next couple of months.

[A note, before someone asks: I am not making these shows available for general download because this is not a side hustle I can take on, I am sorry! These are all out there in the world of live concert torrents.]

Patti Smith Group live at Masonic Temple, Detroit, MI

12 December, 1976

Setlist: We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together, Kimberly, Redondo Beach, Free Money, Poppies, Ask the Angels, Pissing in a River, Pumping (My Heart), Ain’t It Strange, Band of Gold, Radio Ethiopia/RnRN/Gloria, My Generation*

*special guest Rob Tyner

This PSG show in the Motor City fell towards the end of 1976. While they had just released Radio Ethiopia in October, there wasn’t necessarily any kind of formal “this is the Horses tour/this is now the Radio Ethiopia tour” and more of just - the band was on the road playing because that is what they did, and because of the general “we are Paul Revere out bringing the important news to the people” ethos of Patti and the band. It wasn’t like there was any kind of robust national network of clubs that existed for small-to-medium sized bands to play, so you’re going to basically go anywhere that will have you. Detroit was one of those places.

The band had been through the D earlier in the year, the night in March where Patti and Fred Smith met, and then played together, for the first time. (That show will come later, don’t worry.) This is towards the end of the year, when things are winding down; the new album was out, the much-anticipated, eagerly expected followup to Horses; this is not about the critical reception to the PSG’s sophomore release (there is a book for that, lol) but rather to set the scene for the appearance. The band had worked a full touring schedule, including a short trip to Europe and the UK.

“Hey, there’s two empty seats,” Patti greets the crowd, while you hear Ivan or Lenny cronching what are clearly going to be the opening chords of the Velvet Underground’s “We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together,” one of the band’s favorite statements of intent for live shows. She yells at security to leave people alone early in “Kimberly,” and then stops singing in the middle of “Redondo Beach” to yell at a photographer that they can’t push people out of the way: “Anyone can stand here.”

Once the song ends, Patti’s on security again: “Listen, I don’t know what it’s like other concerts, all you guys, security guys, knock it off. Nothing’s gonna happen. Really, it’s cool, just let them have a good time, they know what they’re doing. It’s so distracting. Sir, sir, mr. policeman, sir, they’re really all right, c’mon man, we’re not, like, having a rally or something, we’re Americans.” There’s a small scattering of applause as Richard Sohl decides it’s time to start “Free Money” and listening to his tone is always such a joy. He was such a phenomenal artist. If you’ve seen “Free Money” in recent times, you’d be struck by how absolutely similar it is energetically and emotionally. Yes, she still has Lenny and Jay Dee with her, they were great then and they’re even better now. That decisive one-two at the end is just as crisp and authoritative.

“Poppies” is the first Radio Ethiopia song in the set, and while the studio recording of this track is not my favorite, there’s more life to it live. A thing I have the utmost admiration for Patti is that every tour, without fail, she played the new material from her records live, no matter how difficult or challenging it might be for the band to execute or the audience to absorb. She always included a lengthy improvisational number and never thought about leaving it out of the live setlist. This is not something you can say about every musician, including large and distinguished ones.

“Ask The Angels” is bright and raw, Patti hollers “IVAN!” with glee at the moment for his short, sharp solo. (Confession: the first time I heard this song, I thought they were singing “qualuude” and not “wild” -- even with hours listening to it on my shitty Radio Shack over-ear headphones. It was one of the first things I looked up when she published a lyrics book.)

[There is someone standing next to the taper who just keeps annoyingly clapping on the 1-2 between every song, which I am choosing to interpret as displeasure for a break of any length. Perhaps they should have considered some downers.]

“Pissing In The River” is in a curious spot in that it really needs intense focus and a slightly faster pace than the studio version in order to not drag the rest of the set down. Looking at it on face value, the run of “Free Money,” “Poppies,” “Ask the Angels,” and then “Pissing in a River” works, just not this version.

The clapper returns. Someone yells “horseshit.” Someone else yells “Gloria,” undoubtedly thinking himself clever. “We’d like to wish Rob Tyner happy birthday,” Patti says, while the guitarists engage in a lengthy tuning interlude that allows them to execute Radio Ethiopia’s “Pumping (My Heart),” the song on the record that sounds most like the year in which it existed, that sounds more like something producer Jack Douglas would work on, precisely calibrated to sound loud as hell coming out of the speakers in the back of a dark green Gran Torino cruising up Woodward Avenue on a Saturday night.

The tape flip happens as Patti is rapping with the crowd, talking about the last time they were in town, and claims that there are ‘extraterrestrial implantation’ coming out of her monitors. “How’s the radio. How’s your FM? What about your AM?” and the crowd explodes with the loudest, most specifically local BOOOs - “Well, you should tell ‘em.”

Lenny Kaye steps to the mic for the opening intonation of “Ain’t It Strange,” and the resulting applause isn’t because of the song but rather because everyone loves Lenny. “Ain’t It Strange” is the song that Patti was performing when she falls to the floor in Tampa the very next month. It’s always a song that inhabits its own temporal fabric, it’s not possible to sing a half-assed version, so it is asking for a level of dedication and abandon that then… does what it does. It can be high or dark or ecstatic or needle-sharp; it isn’t in the setlist these days a lot because of the energy it demands. The version on this recording is hypnotic and makes me wish for a time machine.

The encore opens with Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold,” introduced as “from my little known greatest-hits record.” Payne was from Detroit and the song was written by Holland-Dozier-Holland and released on the record label they started when they left Motown. Lenny counts in twice before Patti finds the timing, but once she’s in, it’s affectionate and joyful. I’m guessing the harmonies I can hear are Lenny; it’s a relative rarity, but not a one-off.

“All I can tell you is that we did a genius version of that in the dressing room,” Patti says at the end, ending the song 30 seconds early by declaring, “Lenny Kaye!” and then introducing the rest of the band.

From there, we have one of the most notable train wrecks in that the next number is our improv, “Radio Ethiopia” into “RnRN” and then segueing straight into “Gloria.” I admire the live performances of “Radio Ethiopia” because of the sheer fucking temerity it must have taken to get up there and execute a 15-20 minute rock and roll improv with shrieking guitars. Patti gets lost up there, she can’t find the beat, she asks the band to take it down, and then kind of shuffles through a recitation of “RnRN” before you hear the ‘most glorious’ three chords and the mood shifts, the crowd applauds eagerly, and then now the show has gotten to the moment they were waiting for.

“I wanna see a sea of hands out there,” Lenny says, introducing the MC5’s Rob Tyner with the now infamous introduction from Kick out the Jams. “All hell’s gonna break loose,” Tyner announces, as Patti notes that she is about to play rhythm guitar as well. The closing number is the PSG’s now-canonical version of “My Generation,” Tyner taking the first verse, then Patti coming in later in the song. It’s supposed to sound like anarchy but tonight it sounds like everyone is on their most focused deconstruction because of the very special guest. “Free Wayne Kramer,” Lenny yells repeatedly, echoing the shoutout that’s on the cover of Radio Ethiopia. “Free everybody,” Tyner adds. “Free everybody.”

This show was recorded by my late friend Jared Houser. Jared was originally from Michigan, and he and his crew taped thousands and thousands of shows around the country and internationally just to make sure someone was capturing things they thought were important. They were not “bootleggers” in that they were not selling these recordings. I met Jared when he was the co-editor of the fanzine Who’s News, a publication that taught me how to be a thoughtful, inquisitive, questioning fan. If you’ve read my first novel, there’s a character named after him in his honor.

There’s a short video clip of Jared talking about how he got started taping here. If you collect live shows, I guarantee that you have some of his work.