Patti Smith, Immaculate Young Punks, Respectful Cops Say Good-bye to CBGB

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Patti Smith performing CBGB's final show last night. Photo: Sara Cardace


Last night hundreds of would-be farewellers packed the Bowery in the hopes of attending the Patti Smith gig that, after all that, would be the Last Show Ever at CBGB. News vans dotted the block. The line stretched around the corner. Suspiciously immaculate — and, naturally, ticket-free — young punks protested their situation loudly at the door.

The line had formed early (some reports put its start at Sunday morning), but it failed to move even as word the show had started rippled back through the increasingly impatient crowd, some of whom had come from as far as Texas and London. When many of the ticket holders finally made it through the door, things had indeed already begun and the crowd was packed nearly all the way to the entrance. Scene stalwarts Steven Van Zandt and members of the Talking Heads rubbed anonymous elbows with a newer generation of fans, including more than a few people wearing crisp new CBGB tees and, reportedly, Elijah Wood.

The clean-cut, industry-heavy mob may have been tellingly out-of-synch with the dingy, long-ailing venue's historical patrons, but punk princess Smith, clad in reading glasses and a lumpen black blazer, put on a gruff, powerful performance despite initially seeming somewhat overwhelmed by the whole affair. Flanked by her long-time bandmates (and joined by Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, who was later treated to a Happy Birthday sing-along), Smith indulged the crowd with countless punk-era anecdotes and played a nearly four-hour set of guttural anthems, introspective new works, and high-energy covers of songs like "Gimme Shelter," "For Your Love," and "Blitzkrieg Bop." As enthusiasm started to ebb, she led the thinning crowd in a last-ditch rendition of the punk staple "Gloria" and a long, heartfelt tribute to scene members who'd passed away.

Just before the show officially came to an end, three police cars arrived at the curb out front. They paused for a few minutes, and then they slowly drove away. (Nothing more to see here, indeed.) By 2 a.m., the last amps, guitars, and drums ever to grace the CBGB stage had been carted out of sight.

Sara Cardace