Patti Smith Live At 65: Still The Loudest Voice In The Room

Raucous, uproarious and downright glorious, Patti Smith still has the raw exuberance of youth which makes her live show an absolute joy...
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Raucous, uproarious and downright glorious, Patti Smith still has the raw exuberance of youth which makes her live show an absolute joy...

“Hi!” Patti Smith beams bashfully after a surprisingly sedate Dancing Barefoot.

It’s the start of what proves to be a truly inspiring, endearing, evening mixing classic, musically-accomplished 70s rock, raucous modern protest music, and what can only be described as brilliant stand-up comedy.

“I love a place of higher learning,” she tells the Cambridge crowd earnestly. “I’m looking for a job here,” she says, adding the disclaimer: “Not a restaurant.”

She rambles on happily: “I’d be a really good teacher. Cos I’m really strict, and hard to get along with. But in the end, you’d really like me and you’d cry when I leave – like in Goodbye Mr Chips.

If you judge singers by whether they engage their audience, then Patti Smith is a true star. Boy does she give good intro.

A truly inspiring, endearing, evening mixing classic, musically-accomplished 70s rock, raucous modern protest music, and what can only be described as brilliant stand-up comedy.

For the title track of her recent release ‘Banga’, she asks the audience to join in with barking (yes really), choosing side between “freaks or other people… Or you can do both.”

Her enthusiasm for Cambridge would put most of the city’s estate agents to shame, recommending the locals to check out Wittgenstein’s grave and expressing her love of its “Parsonages.”

If the audience didn’t worship her already, they do now.

As for the music, her biggest hit ‘Because The Night’ is, strangely, the only dud.

The two-hour set starts calmly, showcasing the range honed on her less celebrated records from the last decade.

‘April Fool’ and ‘Fuji San’ (from Banga) are infectious power pop reminiscent of Stevie Nicks while ‘This Is The Girl’, her gently affecting tribute to Amy Winehouse, even has a touch of ghostly Doo-Wop worthy of Julee Cruise.

‘Beneath The Southern Cross’, ‘Peaceable Kingdom’, and ‘My Blakean Year’ carry the mournful tinge of Country & Western she has added to a voice that, astonishingly, sounds richer than ever.

But anyone thinking that at the age of 65, Patti Smith has mellowed would be seriously under-estimating the anarcho-hippy fire inside her.

Easter’s ‘Ghost Dance’ is dedicated to “the new guard.”

The abiding image of the night is the sight of Smith pushing the microphone stand over, standing stage-front, hair matted in sweat, and spitting

What seems like a touchingly sweet confession (“I really like churches - you can go in and light a candle”) becomes an impassioned rant about the clampdown on democracy in Russia.

‘Gloria’ is like a trip back in time. In trademark jeans, t-shirt and waistcoat, she preens and prances, shimmies and skanks across the stage as, like a punk version of The Eagles, her band (including Lenny Kaye) skilfully build a blazing maelstrom. She replaces the letters in the famous finale, shouting ‘P.U.S.S.Y.R.I.O.T.’

She finishes a positively yobbish version of ‘Free Money’ with both fists raised.

‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger’ descends – or ascends – into mayhem. The abiding image of the night is the sight of Smith pushing the microphone stand over, standing stage-front, hair matted in sweat, and spitting – a magnificent gesture of defiance.

The uproarious encore, People Have The Power, ends with her 3 male guitarists and the audience chanting the chorus together.

But above everyone, it’s Patti Smith’s voice that is the strongest.

Follow Jim on Twitter @jimshelley17

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