Rock legend and award-winning author Patti Smith had to cancel her show at the Paramount Theatre Wednesday night due to Governor Inslee's new rules about public gatherings of over 250 people. However, forces quickly coalesced to allow Smith's guitarist, Lenny Kaye (a legend himself in the production and garage-rock compilations realms), to score a semi-secret gig at Belltown Yacht Club, whose owners announced it last-minute-style on their social media formats. (I mentioned it in this Slog post, as well.)
The show very well could be a harbinger of turning lemons (canceled concerts) into lemonade (impromptu secret gigs at more intimate venues) in the wake of the new social-distancing rules in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The night started with DJs Maxwell Edison and TrickBag Record Party spinning a load of 45s in the spirit of first-wave garage-rock, setting the mood for the man who curated those influential Nuggets comps. Guitarist/vocalist El Vez (the Mexican Elvis) followed with a set of spare, infectious rock songs and wry sociopolitical commentary. Before he started, though, he mentioned that BYC's drink special was the "Path O' Gin." A+ wordplay.
Then Kaye took the stage with his electric guitar, looking fantastically svelte and wearing his gray/black hair at sternum-length, denoting a hard-rock lifer aging with incomparable dignity. He played it loose and joked often, made self-deprecating remarks, told funny anecdotes, and acknowledged the crisis with a mix of hope and pessimism. Referencing the canceled show, Kaye quipped, "Hopefully, we'll come back in the fall, if we aren't in a civil war by then." Smith's tour manager later told me that Patti and her band will return to the Paramount in early October, if all goes well.
Kaye's set was a mishmash of songs from various points of his career (highlight was "I've Got a Right"), with some well-chosen covers, and Patti Smith Group's eerie "Ghost Dance" from 1978's Easter. He prefaced the latter with "Patti would like you to partake of this song, especially during this incredible time."
Kaye did a classic by his favorite band, the Velvet Underground, "Run Run Run," which he segued seamlessly into the Box Tops' "The Letter." He also covered a ramshackle tune by Malfunkshun, in tribute to the late Andrew Wood, and interpreted the stark ballad "Naked as the Day You Were Born," a 1986 track by the obscure English indie-rock group the Weather Prophets, whom he produced.
Johnny Thunders's "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" received a heartfelt treatment, and then the night climaxed with El Vez joining Kaye to wring every ounce of passion out of "the national anthem of garage rock," Them's "Gloria." Kaye freestyled some lyrics, including a nod to Mudhoney's "Touch Me I'm Sick." The crowd sang along to the "G L O R I A" chorus and, for a short while, COVID-19 got back-burnered from our minds. In between songs, Kaye joked, "If anything, this virus will motivate me to stay home and organize my 45s."
Overall, not a bad night of entertainment in a room that was about 78 percent full on a Wednesday during a pandemic. Near the end of the show, a friend said, "I've hugged all my favorite people tonight. If I'm gonna die, I wanna die happy." Amen.
Throughout the night, a paperback copy of John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor sat unattended on a table. Nobody stole it.