Tonight’s performance is part of a tour supporting the recent release of Patti Smith‘s autobiographical book, Just Kids, which focuses on the life and times that she shared with fellow artist and photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. The evening is a mixture of readings from the book and Smith’s music performed in a stripped down, acoustic arrangement with the assistance of Tony Shanahan, on keyboards and guitar, and Lenny Kaye on guitar.
Smith enters the stage in her typical unassuming and slightly dishevelled manner, carrying her book full of markers and her glasses, reminding you of the inspirational teacher at school who abandoned the syllabus to enthuse her students about life instead. Despite the evening having an improvisatory feel about it, it becomes quite apparent that each track has been chosen specifically to connect with the emotions or themes of the reading that went before. Starting with the story of her birth and her mother’s missing refrigerator, Smith opens the musical proceedings with Grateful, which part way through goes awry, so Smith stops the song and jokes about hypnotising the audience into believing they are watching perfection! After Mother Rose, Smith tackles a cover version of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day, reminiscing about her early escapades with Mapplethorpe. Patti Smith truly makes the song her own, with her inimitable vocal style and ability to convey emotion, providing the audience with an insight to the depth of connection between her and Robert.
Throughout the show, Smith’s dry sense of humour prevails supported by her quick wit when heckled by overzealous members of the audience for various songs that she has no intention of playing. My Blakean Year and Pissing in a River, demonstrate Smith’s capacity for lyric writing which encapsulates the visual not just the aural plain and results in the audience being incredibly attentive despite it being an acoustic show. After more stories, including an unusual encounter with Allen Ginsberg, Smith unleashes the strength of her voice with Free Money, enlivening the crowd and raising the atmosphere within the room, only to be purposefully lulled by the enchanting Beneath the Southern Cross. During one of the readings, Smith and Kaye get into a debate about the type of car he was driving one evening to a show at CBGBs which brings the story to life and adds further to the amusement of the events. Because the Night, possibly Smith’s most famous track, draws you in deeper to her world and, regardless of its commercial appeal, still sounds tremendous and results in the dancing people from the back to run forward to the stage.
The set draws to a close with the rousing People Have the Power which brings everyone to their feet and embrace the belief that we can make a difference. More of the audience flock to the stage as Patti takes a wander through the crowd, many of which are too caught up in the music to notice their idol walking past them. Smith finishes the set with Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger, which despite being played on acoustic instruments, still contains the brutality and strength of the electric version and is an illustration of the pure passion and determination of the vocalist. As they leave the stage, the crowd are in rapturous applause, and not satisfied that they have seen enough yet. Luckily Patti Smith returns with the greatest opening line to an album, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” and thrashes out the masterpiece that is Gloria. Smith spits out every word with such vigour and potency, it feels like she is personally addressing every individual in the room, making you a part of the song. Unfortunately, all too soon the song ends and Smith and her band depart from the stage for the final time leaving you with a true sense of empowerment that I only feel after seeing this legendary woman perform live.
I am not a massive fan of spoken word events; however, Patti Smith made her book come alive. Not only is she a truly awesome vocalist and lyricist, she has led a fascinating life which she has managed to envelop in creative language. I cannot urge you strongly enough to see Patti Smith perform live in any capacity because she has the power to change your life for the better. She teased the audience early on about seeing perfection; but as the saying goes “many a true word spoken in jest”.
Review – Toni Woodward
Photo – Beni KÃ¶hler