Sept 8th 2012
With her hands held out plaintive. Her voice switching from swooping melodramatic to a growl and the tumble of beat poetry pouring out with its emotive soul power, Patti Smith is in total control. The band are amazing- tight and loose, they can jam but never lose focus and ride the emotion like the best musicians. If their references are decades old, it really doesn’t matter. When you play like this the electricity is timeless and just like her current album, Banga, proves this is a band beyond time. Real raw emtion has its own rules.
This was not just a rock n roll show but a powerful, spiritual, shamanic experience.
When you watch Patti Smith you are peering right into the heart of rock n roll. That special place where the adrenalin and possibilities of Elvis were mashed with the revolutionary soul power and the artful intellect of the true high decibel revolutionary.
It makes you want to believe again.
This is one of the last chances you will get to see rock n roll from a time when it really mattered. Really fucking mattered. The scream of the butterfly, the call to arms, the belief that revolution would not come from the barrel of a gun but from an electric guitar. That sort of rock n roll from a time of youthquakes and long hair that is now grey and older but comes with an added wisdom that gives it an extra power. A couple of years ago I did an in conversation with Patti in Sheffield and her emtional confessional was hypnotic, amp that up with the band and it’s overwhelming and a peak at a lost time when all this stuff really mattered.
For sure there are great bands in these modern times. Music doesn’t just stop. But there’s something about that circle of people from Iggy to the MC5 to Jim Morrison and all those other crazy poets and the rest of the gang that was really, truly out there. These people didn’t do irony or career moves, they went on stage and really did let their ya yas hang out and really did believe that the world was changing with every guitar chord.
And you know what’s truly great about Patti? She still believes in all that stuff. Her singing is great tonight- powerful, seductive, dangerous, emotional- everything you want it to be but it’s her between song banter that really hit home.
There are sprawling emotional cries for Pussy Riot and freedom, powerful between the eyes calls urging the crowd to rise up. In one powerful section she raps about a young soldier killed by friendly fire and after a dramatic pause yells, ‘what the fuck is friendly fire!’ howling with all the soul power of a true artist but also with the added power of a mother and a woman in her sixties who has the wisdom to back up her assertions and statements and surely that is what makes this truly powerful.
Age has not withered Patti. It has empowered her and she wears it well. Her voice is remarkably stronger and if most of the set is decades old songs they just sound even more powerful with the passage of time, with every nuance played with, every piece of electricity made to count and their fluid nature taken to the brink as the band, led by faithful, original member Lenny Kaye, play fantastically.
Patti is left free to let her emotions and words run unfettered over the music. Her powerful voice commands the songs and her emotions touch everyone in the packed hall. She is a magnetic performer, magnetic because she tells her truth without fear and fear is the curse of the performer.
Because the Night, we are told is about Patti’s former husband the late MC 5 guitar player Fred Sonic Smith and suddenly the whole song makes sense with its beauty and it’s description of love and lust laid out naked for all to hear over Bruce Springsteen’s uplifting chord sequence that gave Patti her biggest hit all those years ago.
Surely that is what rock n roll is all about. It’s the poetry of fucking and the right to fuck and to think and to feel without the state and the banks and the corporations getting in the way. All great ÃÂ Music is sexual. Tonight is sexual because it fucks with your head.ÃÂ It’s the call for freedom and all that sixties hippie stuff that has been so trashed by the cynical modern society. That call for freedom wasn’t dopey hippy bullshit but the truth and you can hear that in Patti’s voice.
The voice that intones those words that instantly reminds you of the real hippies, the ones that Jack Kerouac once perfectly described as he wrote about his beat friends in the early fifties, ‘ the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.’
Those are the only people with knowing. The rest is dead time.
Patti is one of those people. She is the beat goddess who survived and her poetry reaches across the decades from the post war be bop of Jack and Neal and through the hip shake thing of the British beat boom to the hippies. She could have been a mid seventies footnote- the end game of the sixties resistance but her emotive power and powerful feminine presence inspired punk.
The punk woman were empowered by her tomboy revolt against the dolly bird cliche of pop. Not only that, many of the men were as well, fired up by her new sexuality and her tsunami of emotional power and brilliant mind. The Patti Smith Band we crucial because they were the fulcrum right there bang in the centre between the sixties and the punk Generation. They were the last of the sixties and also the first of the punk Generation….no one else managed to straddle both generations and they pulled it off.
The set tonight is full of classics. The audience are in love. The atmosphere euphoric. All Patti had to do was get on the stage and she would have had a standing ovation. Instead she delivers the show of her life.
What is it about these old troupers? They just get better and better. Freed from the shackles of having to have a hit record or to be hip or be sexy they manage to have all of that by being themselves- isn’t that a powerful lesson to be learned? She even sings about it on the 1988 comeback song People Have The Power which sounds fist clenched righteous and also empowering.
Even the hectoring women stood next to us who thinks that she has the right to butt in and rant at us for talking during the gig before spending the next ten minutes talking to her friends can’t ruin this. Her ignorance and rudeness is drowned out by the wonder of the music and her assumption that we were the ones talking when we briefly told eachother how wonderful the gig was is mind boggling dumb.
The set ends with Rock n roll Nigger, arguably the first punk song and you can feel it as they sing it tonight. When the while
whole band sings, outside of society, it gives you goosebumps. And when Patti raps out her street poetry it feels delicious. The truth- it’s right there in front of you. The song is stretched out to ten plus minutes of great guitar playing and stunning vocals. It’s the the final encore.
Parti toys with us and says she wants to do more but can’t. Ninety minutes of that sort of music must be exhausting to perform physically and emotionally.
For a brief moment in time rock n roll really mattered again…