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  Johnette Napolitano
Johnette Napolitano
NY Rock Confidential By Jeanne Fury Online coverage of the New York
City music scene since 1996...


June 2007 Issue:
    • Patti Smith
    • Johnette Napolitano
      (Concrete Blonde)
    • Joey Ramone Birthday Bash

Patti Smith at the Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY, April 24, 2007

"I'm gonna make 40 more cover albums because no one wants to hear lyrics I write anymore," said Patti Smith from onstage at the Bowery Ballroom. She sounded only half-joking. To be completely honest, it took me a long time to get into Patti Smith. For years, I thought of her as a humorless wannabe shaman-hippie. When I later found out she told Debbie Harry to "get out of the business" in the '70s, it was enough for me to write her off as some self-important, holier-than-thou chick. Then I got older and made friends with devout Patti fans, and I saw how significant she and her music were to these people that I cared a lot about. I bought Horses and Easter. I still didn't really click with the songs, but I admired Smith's humanitarianism and devotion to the scene I loved. She did what she wanted with no one to show her the way.

The Patti Smith who's out there now is much more appealing to me than the Patti Smith of yore, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that she's 61 (and I'm older, too). She's funny, self-deprecating, and engaging, and the stories she shared were kinda sweet. Tonight celebrated the release of 12, Smith's covers album. Smith opened with Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and it was surprisingly beautiful and optimistic-sounding in a way you didn't necessarily think a song about megalomania could be. She followed with Neil Young's "Helpless" and Lou Reed's "Perfect Day." But the crowd grew restless and began shouting requests for original songs.

"You wanna see me sing 'Free Money'?" Smith said, faking her disbelief. Someone screamed, "You rock!" "Rock?!" Smith replied, "Don't you know I turned 75? I don't rock anymore. I'm like one of those geri-ack-trick people!" She poked fun at guitarist Lenny Kaye, saying, "Lenny sold his soul to the devil." But after the laughter died down, Smith turned to her guitarist-son Jackson and said, "Do you know that one?" Lo and behold, Smith and company delivered a flat-out rockin' version of "Free Money" that had every head in the crowd screaming in ecstasy.

Kaye walked across the stage and cheekily plucked two strings – the unmistakable intro to "Smells Like Teen Spirit." When Nirvana was active, the focus was always on Kurt Cobain's angst and pain so much so that all these years later it's still hard to separate those emotions from his lyrics. But Smith had a very calming presence and it shone a clean light on the song, even though her version was a bit askew: "my libido, a mosquito, an albino." The best part was the "yeah" that comes after that part. She sang it hushed and uber-cool, understated but so awesome.

Tonight happened to be William de Kooning's birthday, so Smith told us a story about how she used to send him a card every year on his birthday, never knowing if they were actually delivered to the artist. Years later she met the man in the flesh and told him about the cards. "That was you?" de Kooning replied. Keep at it, and you'll reach the people you were meant to reach.

Johnette Napolitano at the Canal Room, New York, NY, May 16, 2007

It was pouring as I ambled to the entrance of the swank Canal Room. I lifted my head right in time to see a woman say to the bouncer, "Oh, but I'm performing tonight." Once again, I come within three feet of greatness and I nearly keel over. Last month, Debbie Harry. This month, the voice of Concrete Blonde. You'd think that with all the practice I've been getting lately that I'd be able to conjure up a semblance of cool. But no.

Inside, a pale punk wearing a Crass t-shirt stood alongside a balding, beer-bellied dude in a pink-and-turquoise striped polo shirt who stood alongside a dude wearing an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt displaying a thatch of grey chest hair. Suburban lesbians ordered drinks next to a smartly dressed cigar bar crowd who ordered drinks next to biker chicks in tight jeans and boots. Napolitano's fan base is motley to say the least. But it's a testament to her compelling charms, not the least of which is her voice that could fill every crack in the Grand Canyon. Our Boss Publisher likes to compare Napolitano to "a gem among a lot of garbage." There are a lot of good voices out there. But there are precious few as distinguished and revealing as Napolitano's. One listen to Concrete Blonde's hit "Joey" and you're hit with what feels like the ancestry of a thousand battered souls.

"Welcome to the 'Bring the Doom' tour," announced Napolitano from the stage. The day after she left San Francisco, the bridge fell. The day after she left New Jersey, there were wildfires. She shook her head and shrugged. "Be careful everyone!" She's touring in support of Scarred, her first official solo album. Onstage in a flowing black dress, she played her acoustic guitar as if aiming to break the strings. The new songs switch between bursts of fiery emotion to Concrete Blonde-y, desert-influenced meditations. She was breathing heavily, mixing rambling verse with strident cries that pierced the cheesy club's mood lighting. One song detailed friends barhopping on the boulevard: "It seemed we'd live forever and life wasn't that hard." Then Napolitano broke into "Rehab" by Amy Winehouse and flashed a smile. Here and there, the songs were flecked with Latin and southwestern influences. Throughout, Napolitano's voice would go from a dark cloud to a bolt of lightning.

Almost as entertaining were her hilarious quips. Among the many:

"I'm voting for Hilary," Napolitano said. "A woman deserves four years to fuck up 200 years worth of male rule. Obama, baby, get on the VP ticket."

"You got [burlesque star] Dita Von Teese [performing] the same night. She's awesome. I can't compete with that shit."

"The humidity is killing me. I'm shvitzing up here."

"I just wanted to write a Willie Nelson song. He smokes seven joints a day because [he said] 'If I didn't, I'd kill someone.' ... He's Willie Nelson! Are you gonna call him unpatriotic?! NO."

"My shrink says I don't need meds. I think I do."

Two special guests made appearances. The first was axe-slinger Cecilia Villar of NYC band El Juri. "I call her the female Santana!" shouted Napolitano. The two did a duet on Concrete Blonde's "Mexican Moon," with Villar handling the solo. Napolitano stomped her boots and shifted her hips like a flamenco dancer. By the end, she was bowing at Villar and throwin' the horns. "How fuckin' rad was that!" she shrieked to her drummer. Second guest Steve Wynn joined Napolitano for a sweet, playful cover of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "The Ship Song."

Napolitano dedicated a song to the city of New Orleans and her late brother Robert who passed away last year at the age of 26. The crowd applauded reverently until Napolitano opened her mouth and sang the word "Joey." It caught everyone off guard and some poor lady accidentally screamed one of those "holy shit oh my god" screams. This was only trumped by Napolitano's encore. An a cappella version of "Tomorrow Wendy" adjusted for the political climate. "They say goodbye, tomorrow more Iraqi kids and American soldiers are going to die. They say goodbye, may I ask when is George Bush going to fuckin' die." I got goosebumps on my scalp as severe as mumps, felt the backs of my knees quiver, and thought I was going to barf and/or cry. If this isn't the purpose of being alive, I don't know what is.

Joey Ramone Birthday Bash
 
Joey Ramone's Birthday Bash at Iriving Plaza (or the Fillmore, whatever), New York, NY, May 19, 2007

This was the first Joey Ramone birthday bash without Charlotte Lesher, Joey's mom. Lesher passed away in January at the age of 80. So tonight's party celebrated the two greatest Ramones (with all due respect to the rest of the band). Everyone watched old Ramones live footage on a big screen, the highlight of which was a montage of Charlotte pictured with young Joey and Mickey Leigh and at home in Queens. There was even footage of Joey and Charlotte on the Geraldo show. Geraldo asked Charlotte about CBGB, insinuating it's a dangerous place. In her Queens accent, Charlotte poo-pooed Geraldo. "I've been there many times! CBGB is just a nice place to go!" Everyone cracked up. Then Geraldo asked her about a Ramones song he referred to as "Beat the Brat." Without missing a beat, Charlotte started singing "Beat on the Brat" and did a little dance in her seat while Joey smiled proudly at her side. As if you needed further proof that Geraldo was a total knob.

New awesome band alert: Slinky Vagabond, made up of Earl Slick (David Bowie's old guitarist), Keanan Duffty, Glen Matlock (ex-Sex Pistols) and Clem Burke a.k.a. Elvis Ramone (Blondie). They sounded like a mix of Bowie and the New York Dolls, which provides an excellent segue into the big band of the night.

The Dolls came out and performed a version of "I Wanna Be Sedated" as full-bodied as David Johansen's lips. The band looked like a million bucks: perfect hair, perfect clothes, perfect bodies. Johansen worked it like a divalicious bitch. Sunglasses, open shirt, limp wrists, savage jawline – everything screamed "fuck me" and/or "you're boring me." The shirt he wore must have been sprinkled with pixie dust. With the slightest turn of his torso, the shirt would catch the light and he'd sparkle. It was enough to give a penguin a fever. It was at least enough for Jayne County to flash her tits at him from the side of the stage. "Personality Crisis," "Dance Like a Monkey," "Private World," "Looking for a Kiss," "Pills," "Trash," "Jet Boy" – you name it, they rocked it. Sylvain Sylvain called for one of Johnny Thunders' songs to pay homage to all Ramones and Dolls who had passed over. " You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" morphed into "Lonely Planet Boy." "Cuz I wanna be there witcha. And I know what to bring. I remember, from the days, you got over, everything."

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More NY Rock Confidential Installments:
    
by Jeanne Fury:
Apr '07: Gojira and Machine Head, Last Night at Sin-e, Janeane Garofalo, Marc Maron, Henry Rollins
Mar '07: Midnight Movies, The Fratellis, Willowz, Jesu, Lordi, The Cinematics, Earl Greyhound, Chinese Stars, Scissors for Lefty, Totimoshi
Feb '07: The Hot Crotch Awards (aka Grammys)
Jan '07: The Casualties, Max's Kansas City Project Benefit
Oct '06: Mika Miko, The Supersuckers, Social Distortion, Joan Jett
Sept '06: Sleater-Kinney, Rancid
Jul '06: Homocorps, Panic! At The Disco
Jun '06: Guns N Roses, Go-Go's, Joan Jett
May '06: Sex Workers Art Show, Towers of London, Buckcherry
Mar '06: Andrew WK, The Vacation, Electric Six
Dec '05: The Ark, Tim Fite, Living Things, Independent Music Video Festival
Nov '05: Living Things, Bonk, God Forbid, Early Man, Face to Face, Secret Mommy, Various artists at the Continental
Oct '05: Black Halos, Fireball Ministry
Aug '05: Ronnie Spector
Jul '05: HomoCorps
Jun '05: The Hold Steady, Mastodon
Apr '05: Autolux, Supagroup
Mar '05: Kasabian
Jan '05: Juliette and the Licks
Nov '04: Ramones Beat on Cancer
Sept '04: Lamb of God
Jul '04: Avril Lavigne, The Shocker
May '04: Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Stellastarr*, Ambulance LTD, Hurry-Up Offense, Lunachicks
Mar. '04: Suicide Girls
Jan. '04: Franz Ferdinand
Dec. '03: Stills, Gits, Opti-Grab, Toilet Boys, Modey Lemon, Slumber Party, Funeral for a Friend, Cougars, Fireball Ministry
Oct. '03: Billy Idol, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and the Warlocks
Aug. '03: The Lawrence Arms, None More Black, The Star Spangles
Jul. '03: Drive-By Truckers, Barbez, Dresden Dolls, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum
Jun. '03: Fannypack, Liam Lynch, Stratford 4, Nada Surf, Amazombies, ARE Weapons, Deadly Snakes, Essential Logic
Apr. '03: Turbonegro, Madball
Mar. '03: Manda and the Marbles, Count the Stars, American Hi-Fi
Feb. '03: Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, Tiger Mountain, Blood Brothers
Jan. '03: Enon, Penny Arcade
Dec. '02: Lost City Angels, McLusky, Black Keys, World/Inferno Friendship Society
Nov. '02: CMJ, Diamanda Galas, Longwave, Division of Laura Lee
Oct. '02: Sights, ESG, Princess Superstar, Bush Tetras
Sept. '02: Original Sinners, Northern State, Opti-Grab
Aug. '02: Paybacks, Gore Gore Girls, Cato Salsa Experience, Burning Brides
Jul. '02: Bantam, Girls Against Boys, the Makers, the Bangs
Jun. '02: Slut Em Go, Darediablo, the Liars, the Chromatics, Lovelife
May '02: Hellacopters, Gaza Strippers, Lunachicks
Apr. '02: Distillers, Nekromantix
Feb. '02: Metropolis Fest, Bianca Butthole Benefit, Le Tigre
Jan. '02: Sam Bisbee
Dec. '01: El Vez and Tammy Faye Starlite
Nov. '01: Tracy and the Plastics, Crowns on 45
Oct. '01: Reid Paley
Sept. '01: Ladyfest East
Aug. '01: Betty Blowtorch and Candy Ass
Jul. '01: Porcupine Tree
May '01: Ladyfest East Benefit, the Bellrays and the Greenhornes
Apr. '01: She-Rock-O-Rama, Blast Furnace
Mar. '01: Babe the Blue Ox, the Gossip, Knoxville Girls, White Stripes
Feb. '01: Sarah Dougher, Glen Phillips and John Mayer
Jan. '01: Melissa Ferrick
Dec. '00: Joy Askew
Nov. '00: Natasha and the MGB
Oct. '00: Heather Eatman
Aug. '00: Miracle of '86, Ultimate Fakebook, Sit n' Spin
July '00: Chickfest 2000


by Mistress Persephone:
Apr  '00: Joan Jett and Reverend Horton Heat
Feb  '00: Elvis tribute at the Continental featuring Mr. Monster, Needlehead, X-Possibles
Dec  '99: The Serpenteens
Oct  '99: Misfits


by Miss Adena:
Aug  '99: Cabaret
July  '99: Ancel and the Electric Church
June '99: Tuuli from Toronto rocks CBGB
May  '99: The Rise and Fall of Bikini Contest


by Didi Delicious:
01/11/99: the Velvet Mafia
12/04/98: the Misfits
10/19/98: Didi interviews DJ Chumley and DJ Quick
09/01/98: Hellfire '98 (benefit for NY Underground Film Festival) featuring Double Dong and Go-Go Pup
07/28/98: Mad Daddys, Nina Hagen, Blondie
06/04/98: the first annual New York City Tattoo Convention
05/02/98: Didi's S&M Special with Flesh Fetish
03/28/98: No More Tears and Soft Parade
02/27/98: Ace Frehley, Sebastian Bach, Mick Rock, Lenny Kaye, ex-Foreigner Mick Jones, ex-Hanoi Rocks Michael Monroe, the new Max's Kansas City, Joy Ryder, Misstress Formika
01/30/98: King Norris, Karen Black, more
12/26/97: Ramones, The Dictators, The Undead, more
11/29/97-12/11/97: Sexus, Princess Superstar, more
09/19/97-10/26/97: Blowtop, Crazy Raymond & the Watchdogs, more
05/21/97-08/17/97: Toilet Boys, Nashville Pussy, Turbo A.C.s, Waldos, Sisters Grimm, The Independents, more
01/18/97-03/30/97: Sea Monster, Speed McQueen, Bombshell, Dee Dee Ramone, Jayne County, more
09/19/96-12/19/96: Coyote Shivers, The Living Daylights, more
07/23/96-09/09/96: Electric Frankenstein, The Wild Bunch, more

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