Patti Smith: Outside of Society
By Jacob Heiteen
In the immortal words of Kim Gordon’s t-shirt, “Girls Invented Punk Rock Not England.” If you need proof, look no further than the great Patti Smith. She is a punk original, and Rotten and Strummer got nothing on her. While Smith’s music may not scream “PUNK” the way some might know it, her style and attitude couldn’t be anything else but punk. It should also be noted that of all the members of the CBGB scene (which is basically the birthplace of punk), she was the first to put out a record. her first single was released in 1974 and her debut LP came a year later, predating the Ramones, Television, and Richard Hell. She was, in a sense, the first voice of the scene and forever shaped the way American punk would sound for the decades to come.
On January 20th, Patti Smith took the stage of a sold out show at the Crystal Ballroom, showing everyone that despite being 68 she has not lost any of her raw power. Honestly, I’m sure that if you were to compare last night show to one of her 70s show, the only difference would be the gray hair, because she hasn’t lost anything. She sung as fiercely as she did 40 years ago, was a sharp witted as ever, and had moments where she full on rocked the fuck out.
While unfortunately there was no “Gloria,” we did get “Dancing Barefoot,” “People Have The Power,” and “Redondo Beach.” Hearing all those songs played together made me realize that Smith and her band could sound like literally anything they wanted to. They could do a strange slowed-down version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (complete with a banjo!), the reggae tinted “Redondo Beach” and loud rockers like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger,” all while having made total sense. There were even a few song with the lead being taken by her longtime bandmate and garage rock aficionado, Lenny Kaye, who may have coined the phrase “punk rock” in the liner notes to his influential Nuggets compilation. The highlight was undoubtedly “Because The Night,” which she dedicated to her late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith. That song could pump up any room and when the first chorus hit it seemed like everyone in the audience was singing along.
It was also nice to see a show by such an established artist have such a lack of separation between star and audience. Smith seemed completely open and accessible, telling us in great detail about her day, her beloved old TV, and strangely, a seemingly very intense episode of Little House on The Prairie, saying that she’d rather hear talk about a TV show than some “bullshit political rhetoric”. The stage banter was not at all boring, in fact people encroached on it by shouting out questions about her Vatican performance and reaction to Kim Fowley’s death. Smith even went so far as to invite a random audience member take over for her on guitar while she rocked the mic.
The whole show felt like we were hanging out with her, talking with her, jamming with her. There was no ego with Patti. It felt honest, like we were getting the real woman.