It’s 10:26 pm and a 65 year old mother of two, who is also a widow, has been on the stage for an hour and a half. The Academy is steaming hot. Patti Smith has taken her jacket off. Running her hands through her hair she smiles, her eyes twinkle, “ I haven’t finished with you yet “ she declares and launches into ‘Rock and Roll Nigger’.
She is a force of nature riding a hurricane as she channels some higher spirit imploring the audience to DRINK WATER, BE CLEAN , LIVE FREE, DON’T TRUST BANKS AND CORPORATIONS, WORK HARD, OUTSIDE OF SOCIETY. In a vortex of swirling guitars she is an Old Testament prophetess , poetry tumbles from her soul in true “beat” style. But this is not a message implying anarchy. It is about personal responsibility, freedom and love for anyone who will hear. Magnificent.
Earlier the Slouchettes had made sure they were well positioned at the front. Patti Smith wanders on stage (with the band who are terrific) dressed in her trademark outfit that consists of jeans t-shirt, waistcoat and loose jacket.We expected nothing less. She is grinning and has come for a good time.
And that is what we get. Great songs played with assurance and confidence, delivered with passion and joy. Her hands seem to weave magic out of the air, she is a shaman with messages for us from another possible reality. Patti Smith is from a generation that actually believe what they write about Patti, however , is not entrenched in the past but is very much now. No posturing, posing or resting on her reputation she has been there and back and has nothing to prove yet she gives everything and then more until she is exhausted. This woman just transfixes you with her gentle and enduring personality. She smiles a lot and laughs seemingly carefree and genuinely happy to be with us.
Her set includes classic stuff such as ‘Southern Cross’ and tracks from Banga. Most people are longing for ‘Because the Night’ but I am quietly dreading it because, well y’know, it was a hit and it’s all anyone knows about Patti Smith. She tells us a story about husband Fred “Sonic” Smith while unconsciously holding holding what I assume is her wedding ring on a chain around her neck. There is no “sympathy vote” or pathos involved because she is genuine, it is a lovely moment, and then dedicates ‘Night’ to hi . The song is delivered and it is fresh as a daisy, impassioned and powerful. We all sing, but not along with, because we are part of the moment, part of her story.
Yet Patti Smith is more than this, her work is crafted, literary and classy and so is her vibrant performance. Living Legend? YES, but there is nothing old here because her presence and work is timeless. Her band, led by Lenny Kaye, provide the perfect page for her to write on. They are tight but loose and can jam. At the climax of the set, she rips the strings of her stratocaster and sends an imaginary “arrow of love” into the hot sweaty crowd.
Inspirational? Yes . Enduring? Yes and I suspect I will not experience anything like this again. Later, in the silence of my bedroom illuminated by the clear white shafts of moonlight, I reflect on the feelings of fulfilment, satisfaction and joy. “People have the Power” she sang, and it’s true, the power to bring truth and love into life. Artists and musicians have a privileged position to bring hope into many lives. Patti Smith uses her position with grace, honour and dignity to bless the world.
I would like to do the same ,wouldn’t you?