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Brooklyn The Borough and Fortnight Journal hosted an acoustic benefit last Thursday, Nov. 11th, at Southpaw with special guests Patti Smith (with Lenny Kaye) and Shilpa Ray and her Happy Hookers. The pairing of Smith and Ray, two poetic and unconventional artists, was an effort to further expand the mission of Fortnight Journal, a new multimedia website whose objective is to revive cross-generational mentorship.

Jazz revivalist Tamar Korn (The Cangelosi Cards), kicked off the event with two songs, followed by an animated set by Brooklyn-based Outernational, whose frontman, Miles Solay, repeatedly ensured that the audience was “alright.” Solay comes across as a man for the people, and perhaps it’s a genuine endeavor, but his seemingly scripted stage antics and overly self-aware mannerisms make it hard to take his politics seriously. Outernational is more of a caricature of revolution, following a bit too closely in the footsteps of renowned rockers like The Clash and The Pogues. Live, Outernational are talented musicians and incorporate an interesting array of musical instruments into their performance. Solay’s raspy vocals are well suited for singing  his blue collar blues, but these salty boys would benefit greatly through finding their own voice rather mirroring their mentors.

Shilpa Ray hauled her harmonium front and center, and, as the lights dimmed, tore into a moody and brooding set that included Plea Bargain, a catchy tune from her former band Beat The Devil. Slightly mellowed by the acoustic nature of the performance, Shilpa Ray and her Happy Hookers still managed to pump up the adrenaline as the feisty front woman howled and moaned her way through the performance. The Hookers recently released a limited edition 7” titled Venus Shaver, their first recording with Knitting Factory Records and will soon follow up with a full-length album, Teenage and Torture, on January 18, 2011.

After the provocative set by The Happy Hookers, revved up fans were ready and waiting with bated breath for Patti Smith, only to encounter one more minor obstacle: the fresh faced Zane Alan McWilliams from Texas. For nearly fifteen minutes, McWilliams fumbled with the tuning of his guitar; a stunt so pathetic it almost seemed like a joke. After another few awkward moments in front of the anxiously awaiting crowd, a freshly tuned guitar was brought out to McWilliams and his two chord melodies ensued.

Finally, at the end of the night, came Patti Smith, who graciously excused McWilliams for his incompetence on stage with her own account of a de-tuned guitar blunder as his guitar malfunctioned once again at the onset of their duet. Delicate and tender, Smith barely resembled the poetic punk rock icon of the 70’s.  She majestically flowed through her set with the ease of a great storyteller, her once fierce flame now incandescent as a muted candle.  Smith has transcended into a relic, a heroic survivor whose classic songs have adopted new meanings as they’ve evolved along with their author.  Only during her encore of Pissing in the River did Smith evoke the radiant revolutionary of her youth. Rather than dismiss Smith’s most recent contribution to the arts, the point is to accept this departure as progress. Angst is far better suited for youth, and the calm that has overcome Patti Smith seems fitting for an artist who has undergone the rite of passage from punk icon to poetic sage.

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Photos and Words by Carly Sioux

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