Patti Smith's Meltdown

Meltdown: Songs of Experience
Extracted from Maddie's blog on June 29

I've just realised something I left out of the last entry, which was the man across the aisle from me who was beating time to the encore - not by tapping his foot, like everyone else, but by, er, slapping his stomach. I thought that deserved a mention.

Anyway. Sorry this one's late; I hope I can remember everything that happened properly! I'll have a go.

We arrive at the RFH earlier this time, because they're auctioning off all the stuff from the 'Meltdown on the Ballroom' (it was a sort of relaxation area for people to sit in with all these sofas made from crates and stools made from buckets and stuff). It turns out that some of the things they're selling at fixed prices, and only some of them are being auctioned. Dad buys me a paint bucket-stool (seriously it's great, why would you not want a stool that used to contain paint?) The auction is great fun even though we don't buy anything - Mum had liked the lamps made from recycled metal the day before but they were starting at 75, and the tables - which I really did like - were starting at 100, so that didn't really work out. But the man doing the auction is very funny and doesn't seem to mind that half of the items aren't sold. Dad takes some pictures of the tables and things too.

Gordon comes to eat a sandwich with us before the concert and tells us he was sitting a couple of seats along from Rufus Wainwright and Jessie Smith the night before! "Did you take any pictures?" I ask. "Well we sort of tried to, surreptitiously, but I think we only got the back of his head." Still. I am very impressed. There is then an announcement that they are having to do sound checks in the auditorium and so the concert is going to be delayed. It is, by half an hour, but at least we had some more time to finish the sandwiches.

When we do go in, we're sitting a row in front of the one for Horses but on the other side of the hall. It's a good seat, though I can't see any roadies doing anything amusing. So I start reading the set list thing we've been given ("Ooh good, Flea's doing Third Stone From The Sun,") when the following converastion ensues:
DAD: Oh look... there's Ed Harcourt.*
ME: Hmm? Where?
DAD: Walking across in front of the stage.
*Ed Harcourt walks across the front of the stalls next to the stage the stops at the bottom of our aisle*
ME: Oh yeah! Wow.
*Ed Harcourt walks up our aisle*
ME: *quietly* Ooh he's going to walk past us!
*Ed Harcourt does indeed walk past, and then sits down in the seat behind me*
ME: *omg Ed Harcourt is sitting behind me! omg he is!*
DAD: I keep thinking I can see Dermot O'Leary.
ME: *mishears* What?! *is this some kind of celeb-fest? Does Dermot like Patti? Or Jimi Hendrix?*
DAD: Because of all the bald people.
ME: Oh. *is disappointed* Well if you do see him, tell me.

Sadly, Dermot does not appear at any point. However, Ed Harcourt does get cross with an attendant who is telling his girlfriend (well, the girl he's with, I don't know if it's his girlfriend) not to take flash photos.

The lights go down, at last, and Patti and her band walk on. "Welcome to Meltdown 2005, Songs of Experience," she says. The backdrop to the stage, I should point out, is a big psychedelic picture thing of Jimi Hendrix, which turns into a montage of a big psychedelic film thing when Patti begins the concert with a fabulous rendition of 'Are You Experienced?' She has made a rather bold choice of pink stripey leggings, which somehow manage to look fairly normal on her. I have no idea how she does this. There's a great guitar solo from Lenny, before Patti finishes with the words "James Marshall Hendrix," and leaves to great applause. Though not, I might add, from Ed Harcourt, who doesn't clap. I am appalled.

Next up are Fred Frith and Chris Cutler, who perform 'I Don't Live Today' on just a guitar and drums. They're on the other side of the stage so they're a bit blurry from where I am, but it is very very loud. There's a feedback bit with a very loud beep which hurts my head, but other than that I enjoy it. Hmm. Ed Harcourt is not clapping for this either. Perhaps he is depressed. Maybe he has mortgage problems.

Sek Loso is next on stage. I'd looked him up when Dad told me who was going to be in this concert, and really liked the sound of him: his story was something like he'd been working in a child labour place thing in Thailand but somehow managed to get hold of a guitar and learnt how to play it. He sent off a demo tape aged fourteen (I think), which was so good it got released as an album. He's on our side of the stage, but I can't see him because the other people on with him are blocking my view. It doesn't matter. His rendition of 'Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)' was probably the high point of my evening. I finally catch sight of him -- he's wearing some rather fetching sunglasses, and gets really into the song. I am pleased to hear Ed Harcourt clapping at the end. Pah, took his time. "Hello London!" he shouts, before launching into 'Tiger', which I think must have been one of his own songs. I quite enjoy it, though Dad doesn't (not sure why). I like the riff though. He sings in this one, and he has a good voice as well - why is he not more famous? I wish I could see him a bit better (he has disappeared behind the other guitarist again). The drummer is very good too. Sadly, he doesn't play the Thai National Anthem, which is he billed to do on my sheet. But never mind.

My heading for the next performers reads 'People w/ long names'. Please bear in mind I am writing very fast and can't actually hear what they are introduced as anyway. You may like to know that they are in fact called Kimmo Pohjohen and Sami Kuppomaki, and hail from the Land of Fin (er, Finland). I don't know the song 'Driving South', which is why I don't realise that their version is called 'Driving North' because they are from the most northerly country in Europe (until Dad tells me, obviously). It is fantastic. I didn't think anyone could come anywhere near Sek Loso, but they certainly do. I am even more impressed that they are managing to make such an amazing sound with only a drum set and an electric accordion. The man playing it appears to be wearing a skirt of some sort, but again they are on the other side of the stage so I could be mistaken. The drummer is pounding away like there's no tomorrow, and I discover the unusual experience of hearing feedback from an accordion. I don't think they sang anything (does the original have words, actually?) but they didn't need to. They get massive cheers as they finish the song, and the drummer does a very impressive flip with his stick. They then perform 'Burning of the Midnight Lamp', which is just as good. It's absolutely fantastic and they deserve all the applause they get.

Yat-Kha are billed to be playing Purple Haze first, but I don't recognise it. It seems to involve a lot of growling and feedback, and some kind of electric cello type thing. Someone appears to be singing in Chinese. The tempo speeds up a bit and it starts to sound a bit better, and at this point I realise it is in fact Highway Chile (which they are billed to play second). There are a couple of good riffs. However, Ed 'Still Hands' Harcourt deems this worthy of clappage so there we go. They do play Purple Haze, with a lot of flashing light effects, but I am disappointed by the fact they don't actually sing "'Scuse me while I kiss the sky" (the only line I know in the song).

Never mind, we have the Balanescu Quartet now - and brilliant! Alex Balanescu is wearing a trilby! I am already happy now, so I wait while they set everything up (and listen to Ed Harcourt telling a story about being beaten up by a dog, or something like that at least... I'm not sure if he was talking about himself, or one of the performers or anyone else). They begin with something of their own that I don't recognise, but it turns into 'Foxy Lady', which I certainly do. I have a particular fondness for rock/pop music played on classical instruments, and vice versa (love that version of Sabre Dance on electric guitar) so I thoroughly enjoy this. Ed Harcourt decides to bugger off before they play Spanish Castle Magic; you'd think being a performer he'd know how rude that seems? In fact, people keep leaving all the way through the concert, what on earth is that about? No anyway. They play it, it's very good, the cellist breaks two strings with his vigorous playing and Alex Balanescu breaks one too.

We spend the interval eating an ice-cream at a little table outside the auditorium, then go back in for the first part of the second half, which is a little talk by Robert Wyatt (of running-over-Dad's-foot fame) about Jimi Hendrix. It's ever so lovely, though he's in front of the stage rather than on it, so I can't see him very well. He tells us about being in a support band touring with Jimi, but sadly I can't remember much of what he said about it. Actually, I can't remember any of what he said about it, there's no point lying. He rolls off to a big cheer, and my estimation of Ed Harcourt goes up quite a lot when he shouts "Woo-hoo!" for Robert. I have been wondering if there is any way I can surreptitiously take a photo of him, but it doesn't look like it'll be possible since he's behind me rather than in front or to the side. Ah well.

It's now Joanna Newsom, who has a bit of an odd voice but gives such a mesmerising performance on the harp that it doesn't matter. 'Angel' is beautiful, but 'Little Wing' is even better. She gets an absolutely massive clap, which she fully deserves, as well as the Ed Harcourt seal of approval ("it was good"), and dashes offstage as if terrified (which she could be, for all I know). The only problem is that I can't read my set list properly in the dark and she hasn't announced who's next -- luckily for me, a voice behind me says "Oh, the next one is... James Blood Ulmer's Odessey." Thanks Ed.

I've never heard of them, but they must be famous-ish at least because the photographers that were there for Patti at the beginning of the concert come back to take pictures of them. They play 'Who Knows', which is very loud, and 'Machine Gun', which has some excellent drumming (the drum solo is great). People are still leaving though. I am confused by this. What, don't they like it or something? They can't all need the toilet.

The set list now reads 'Squarepusher', but with no songs listed. Who are Squarepusher? What are they going to play? Well, it turns out to be one bloke with a guitar, but he does things to it you couldn't imagine. We got a five- or six-minute medley of the kind of stuff I daydream about being able to play, at an unimaginable volume. You know when music is really, really, loud, it feels like the room is vibrating very slightly? And you can almost feel it in your legs because they're in contact with the floor? Well, the room actually was vibrating properly, and so was my entire body. It really was that loud. I seem to remember reading something that said vibration is good for your bones, or something, which makes it even better. Squarepusher (well I don't know his real name)'s hand is moving like lightening, and the amps are up so loud that he can hit the guitar to make rhythms and you can hear them clearly. He also does some kind of thing where he slides both hands up and down the neck, and it sounds great. There's an even louder (incredible, I know) bit with a lot of feedback, and I wonder if he's wearing earplugs. He gets a huge round of applause, and a laugh and "I liked that" from Mr Harcourt behind me.

Johnny Marr and Robyn Hitchcock arrive to play 'May This Be Love', which gets a whoop from Ed and a good response from the audience. "This was track one side two of 'Are You Experienced?'," we are told. It has a good guitar solo, at any rate.

Richard Lloyd (of Television) is next up with Lenny Kaye, Jay Dee Daugherty, Tony Shanahan and Tom Verlaine to play 'I Don't Live Today'. Yes, which had been done at the beginning too. Patti turned up too, apologising for "f**king it up by putting the same song again", and staying to sing backing vocals. Unfortunately, she didn't seem to be entirely sure where the vocals were supposed to go, so after trying for a while she gave up and wandered charismatically round the stage instead. She sang 'If Six Was Nine' afterwards - though that one didn't go exactly to plan either. She started singing, thinks she's come in at the wrong time, stops and looks at Lenny in a slightly puzzled fashion. He makes a 'no, no, that was right' gesture (quite impressive considering he's playing the guitar at the same time) and she says "Oh, I couldn't be perfect." She tries again and this time the song is great. She disappears before the end of the song for a reason that I have not yet discovered, and then came back so she could walk off again with the band.

The audience has evidently been looking forward to the next act. Cries of "we love you Flea!" fill the auditorium as he walks on stage to play 'Third Stone From The Sun'. I didn't realise that this was what he was doing at the time, but Dad has explained it to me: he was armed only with his bass guitar, and even I wonderred how he was planning to play the melody on that. He starts off with a bass riff, and then presses a pedal that records what he's playing and then plays it back in a loop so he can do another riff over the top. He continues to do this until he has about eight riffs going, and then puts down his guitar, jumps up and down in excitement and produces his trumpet, to wild applause and cheering. He drawls out the melody beautifully, and gets a predictably loud cheer when he finishes and leaves. So, to my surprise, does Ed behind me. Bye then.

There is now a long, long pause before the more high-profile act of the evening. A large proportion of the audience decide, for a reason that is unknown to me, that it would be a good idea to whistle loudly and for a long time. They do so until Patti finally appears to say, "Ladies and gentlemen. The jewel in our crown - Jeff Beck." The photographers, to nobody's surprise, rush back in as he walks on with his other musicians to begin with 'Hey Joe'. Now, I love this song with a fiery passion, and they certainly do it justice. Ed is missing a treat. The only thing is, Jeff Beck doesn't sing anything (he doesn't do singing, y'see) and he therefore has no microphone. Which means he, er, doesn't say anything. Which is a bit odd, since he's the top-of-the-bill artist and all. Some man from the audience goes down to stand in front of the stage in a rather Bez-esque fashion, with no concern for the fact he looks a bit mad. I don't know who the singer is, but he has the vaguely irritating habit of pacing constantly around the stage, meaning that half of Dad's photos have him blocking Jeff Beck, and the other half have him as some kind of blur of peach-coloured... blurriness. "Jeff Beck!" cries the singer at the end, in case we've already forgotten who it is.

Next is 'The Wind Cried Mary', during which the dancing man is joined by a dancing woman so at least he's not on his own any more. The singer does actually say the names of the rest of the band at the end of this one, though I don't quite catch them. The singer's name might be Jimmy Hall, but I'm not sure. They do 'Red House', which isn't on the set list but is very good. And guess who's back? Ed Harcourt creeps back into his seat behind me halfway through. The singer picks up a tambourine for this one, though how he thinks we're going to hear it I haven't a clue. Well, if it makes him happy. The singer decides to point at Jeff Beck at the end of this one. Yes, we do know who he is. Half of the audience are only here because they know he is. Why don't you tell us who you are, since each and every one of us is fully aware of both Jeff Beck's presence and name? "Jeff Beck!", he shouts anyway, ignoring me.

Never mind - it's 'All Along The Watchtower' now! Patti turns up again and decides to sing this one, which the singer, bless, was obviously not expecting. In the end he wanders around the stage and bangs him tambourine a bit instead. I get a bit distracted as Ed shifts around a lot and kicks the back of my seat a couple of times - ow - and then my camera batteries go, sadly, though Dad's are still ok. I note that Patti is wearing brown boots with her pink leggings. Hmm. How she pulls it off I don't know, but she does. Dancing bloke looks like he's having a seizure of some sort, and - to my utter amazement - people are still leaving. What? What's their problem? The final song on the set list is 'Manic Depression', which is performed wonderfully. There is fanatical applause as everyone leaves the stage, and Ed runs off, never to return. A load of people leave, again, even though it clearly says 'ENCORE' at the bottom of the list.

The encore does indeed take place. A few people come down to the front for it like they did the night before, but not as many this time. On come Lenny and Tony, but the crowd is not satisfied. "We want Flea! We want Flea!" Blimey. He does turn up, to a cry of "Flea you're cool!" from someone in the audience. Patti is next on, and talks for a bit before the final song. She says she's enjoyed the festival and made lots of new friends, though she is very tired. It doesn't take long to turn into a well-received political rally - "Keep protesting!" she cries, "tell that motherf**ker he does not own the world! He can't reinvent freedom. The brand of freedom he's spreading is not our freedom!" They perform their final piece after this, '1983 (A Merman I Would Turn To Be)'. She needs words for it, but all of them play and sing it excellently. Dancing man, who has now been joined by the dancing crowd (but is still easy to pick out among them: I'm worried he's going to either injure himself or injure someone else any minute) catches the lyrics, screwed up into a ball, that Patti throws into the audience (though at the time I thought it was a tissue or a hankie). The song comes to an end with the same words with which the concert began - "James Marshall Hendrix. Meltdown 2005." The words 'experience' fly to the front of the screen which has been playing the psychedelic Hendris footage for the past few hours, but due to what I assume was a hurried mistake they fly a bit too far forward so that the screen reads 'xperienc'. It's kind of sweet.

Outside we are mobbed by the AWAS - well, not exactly. We meet two people at least who are very pleased to meet Dad. I had no idea he was so famous in the online Patti Smith circles. You learn something new every day, eh?

P.S. Pictures up now - 'Horses' folder has been changed to a 'Meltdown' one. Same thing about clicking at the top applies, if you would be so kind.

*Mum has pointed out that her email address could be his, since it's @harcourted (Harcourt Education).

Extracted from Maddie's blog

Latest update 11 July 2005