Patti Smith Proves that She Can Put on a Fantastic Show Anytime, Anyplace

Posted: July 1, 2012 in Editorials, Reviews

Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye in concert in 2011

For some unexplained reason, I never got around to writing an article about seeing The Godmother of Punk in September 2011 at Hunter College in New York City so here goes.

When I found an advertisement for $5 tickets to see Patti Smith at Hunter College I honestly thought I was reading a practical joke.  Smith, a singer and songwriter who began working mostly out of New York City in 1975 with her debut album Horses, who has worked with artists the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Springsteen, has been in the news a lot lately.  In 2007, the singer, songwriter, author, photographer and activist was inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame, in 2010, she published her memoir, Just Kids, about her relationship with experimental and influential photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, in 2011, Hunter College hosted an exhibition of her photographs and poetry in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 (which was the reason for this concert) and in 2012, she released Banga, her first record in five years.

Thus, one would expect that Smith could only possibly be performing at a massive venue with an enormous backing band and the whole operation must be a big to-do.  However, Smith essentially did a favor for the college in an act of thanks for hosting her exhibit.  This small auditorium held maybe about three hundred people so we were all in for a really special experience not to mention that Smith, who played an acoustic guitar, was accompanied only by her daughter on piano and original guitarist for the Patti Smith Band, Lenny Kaye on acoustic guitar.  To be perfectly honest, I always thought that the whole concept of acoustic shows having a more relaxed, intimate feeling was a load of garbage, but boy did Smith, Smith and Kaye prove me wrong that night.  It was refreshing to see that songs often played with a many-pieced loud rock band in enormous arenas the world over also sounded beautiful with two acoustic guitars and a piano in a tiny school auditorium.  It takes a true artist to be able to work as magnificently as Patti did under such conditions.

Hence her nickname, The Godmother of Punk, Patti Smith is often considered an incredibly angry and crazed artist and her music often discusses controversial topics such as racism, isolation, anti-societal notions, and criminal activity.  However, Smith was extremely relaxed to the point of even saying, calmly, “Lenny had a terrific solo on that last song but I don’t think you guys could hear him.  Would someone mind turning up his mic, please?  Thank you.”  She performed song after song after song, frequently reading poetry (some of which related to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.)  Highlights of the concert were “Pis*ing in a River,” and “People Have the Power,” on which she asked the audience to sing along.  Throughout the entire performance, Smith seemed to be one with the other musicians as well as the audience.  At one point, an audience member called out saying, “One more song!” and I added, quite loudly, “Five more songs!” to which the singer laughed, responding, “How about YOU try playing five more songs?”  Such a moment would only be possible in this particular, small, intimate, beautiful setting. She then went right into her biggest hit, co-written by Bruce Springsteen, “Because the Night.”

Smith in fact, had a moment of what appeared to be stage fright during “Because the Night,” and she slurred the first verse, stopped, apologized to the audience and restarted the song, giggling nervously and giddily.  Seeing a rock immortal the likes of Patti Smith make a mistake and simply get back up without a second thought gave the whole show a truly personal and human feel.  I cannot stress enough how special this night was for me and everyone else in that auditorium.  Patti Smith isn’t considered one of the most gifted rock n’ roll stars for nothing.  I can tell you that for sure.  If you can get your hands on a ticket to see Patti, (such a feat isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world) definitely leap on that oppurtunity.

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