NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Benefit shows are notoriously hit or miss. The cause usually trumps the music but not with this line-up—Patti Smith with Lenny Kaye and band, The Smithereens, and the Slaves of New Brunswick, assembling to pack the State Theatre in New Brunswick on a Friday night. The cause? The Court Tavern in New Brunswick came close to closing last December. Various fundraising efforts have been held to keep New Brunswick’s last haven of original music open.
The Melody is gone, Greasy Tony’s is gone, as is the extra grease [no charge] and if you didn’t go to Rutgers yourself, you and your friends went to New Brunswick cause that was the closest place that had any kind cultural or artistic vibe.
The Slaves Of New Brunswick opened the show. This collection of New Brunswick-based musicians who put out a self-titled CD back in 1991 were fronted by Glen Burtnik and Tony Shanahan. Playing songs from the self-titled CD, a backdrop of images and video of the New Jersey, New Brunswick, and the old Court Tavern made you feel a bit like being there.
The Smithereens were the perfect band for the night. Perhaps no other band has gone so far from such humble beginnings as the Court. The group put out a live album last year and chose the Tavern as the place to record. Blowing through a best-of set, the highlight was their rendition of “Underture” from The Who’s Tommy.
You know that artist you’ve wanted to see your whole life, loved the music, but never saw live? That was Patti Smith for many of the assembled. Patti was backed up by Lenny Kaye from the Patti Smith Group and band.
This lady was worshipped by the audience from the moment she walked onstage. Joplin herself showing up would have elicited a similar reaction to some of the ladies in the house, who were clearly out of their minds from being there with “her.” Patti has aged fantastically, her voice was dead-on the entire evening.
Smith had two raps for the night, one being about not just saving the Court, not just saving New Jersey, but saving “the whole fucking world!,” her arms often outstretched to hold, or pumped in fists over her head in triumph. The other, which may not have gone noticed as much, was about simple perseverance being the key to almost any undertaking in life. Be it music, art, or owning a bar, she hammered home, passionately, that it was the people who kept going that matter, despite being thrown down and fucked over again and again, the people who get back up and keep going, despite the odds, despite what others may care or think, are the ones who triumph.
When she said she was sending out a song to Jim Carroll you could hear those who remembered he had recently died, and knew what to expect, which was the first performance I’ve heard of “People Who Died” since the author of the song, well, died. How fitting that a song listing the icons or the era that are no longer with us be sung by one who is still alive and well at a benefit for a rock club struggling to stay alive. If only the rest of rock and roll could chug on like Patti Smith—a wonderful night for a crucial cause.