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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
PATTI SMITH The Roundhouse, London, May 17th 2007
Patti Smith
I had never really thought that Patti Smith and I would have so much in common, not having been that much of a fan of hers. I mean everyone seemed to have those albums back in the seventies and she was just de rigueur for anyone on the fringes of the feminised radical left. But she didn’t seem to have sticking power and like many artists of the period quickly fell off my radar, confined to occasional radio flashbacks.But here she is on stage at sold-out Roundhouse, baring her soul, her love and her hates.
Take deodorant for example – she hates it, and I hate it too. It’s not natural is it – putting all that icky chemical stuff all over yourself just to stop your body from doing something natural. And she has a thing about so-called ‘English breakfasts’ with baked-beans – don’t they just make you vomit? She’s also got a big problem with so-called ‘attention deficit syndrome’ (ADS), with which I also completely agree. You know, vaguely over-active kids who can’t sit still and get over-excited with stuff, for which now they’re increasingly pumped full of drugs such as methylphenidate (found in patent drugs such as Ritalin). Lynx
She’s so angry about this that she talks about it twice – “they haven’t got attention deficit syndrome. There’s no such fucking thing as attention deficit syndrome. They’ve got ants in their fucking pants. I should know, I did too”. Yup – there go we all but for the Grace of God. You know, I rather like this lady and I’m beginning to think I’ve been missing out on something.
When she leans forward over the standing crowd, foot on monitor, jeans, long hair, baggy white shirt and long jacket (sound familiar?) and sings “Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine” as her excellent band break into opening song ‘Gloria’ from her 1975 debut album, I just know I have. The atmosphere is electric – the band charge into the song like an express train at full tilt - it’s almost, to employ an over-used and rather tasteless Americanism, “shock and awe”.
Undertaker And it stays at the same pace for pretty much all of the night. Of course most of the audience know exactly what to expect – they’re believers, and they’re here to worship. Take my friend Colin whom I bump into by chance (a great admirer of Whiskyfun, Serge, and a passionate and very professional advocate for all single malt whisky, the wonderful Bowmore in particular) – he tells me he’s been to every Patti Smith gig since 1966 (some exaggeration perhaps Colin?), and tonight he’s here with a surprisingly lively party of undertakers from Cornwall. They’ve got their eyes on the cadaverous form next to me – male, around 23, who stands all night trancelike mumbling the words to all the songs and occasionally grinning. In front we have two city-boy drum enthusiasts who swap braggadocio about the size of their tom-toms, and next to them two old guys who are trying to recapture their youth by downing prodigious quantities of what passes for beer in this place (they eventually leave somewhat unsteadily, but very happy).
Ms Smith is here because she’s released a new album, Twelve, a collection of covers of her favourite songs. It’s had mixed reviews, the consensus being that it has its high points, and some inexplicable low points too (of which more later). But Ms Smith is on the offensive. She talks slowly, detached, every word carefully and perfectly chosen (even the expletives) but with menace; she reminds me slightly of Laurie Anderson’s pilot on ‘From the Air’. “People ask me, when I’m enjoying a lonely evening by myself in the gutter, people ask me, ‘Patti, why have you released a covers album? Did you lose your inspiration? Did your record company bind and gag you and tie you to a desk and make you do it?’ And I reply, ‘Because I fucking wanted to’”. Fair enough.
The set mixes these ‘new’ songs and some Smith classics like ‘Redondo Beach’, ‘Privilege’, ‘Pissing in a river’, ‘Because the night’, ‘Rock n’ roll nigger’. From Twelve she largely picks the strongest songs – a remarkable ‘Are you experienced’, an intriguing and unexpected ‘Within you and without you’, a powerful ‘White Rabbit’ which she cleverly uses as a platform to express her rage against ADS, and a steamy version of the Door’s ‘Soul kitchen’. Best of all is ‘Smells like teen spirit’ which she manages to make her own, mystifying the two beer-drinking guys who have clearly never heard of Nirvana. White Rabbit
Unwisely she also sings ‘Helpless’, a wonderful song best left to Neil Young and tuneless school-kids, and most mystifying of all the anodyne ‘Everybody wants to rule the world’, of Tears for Fears fame. Now I know the answer I’d get if I asked Ms Smith why she chose to record this, and certainly performed live it sets her up for a powerful denunciation of those who would seek power as she moves into Babelogue, but really, it is simply a dreadful song.
Patti Smith Not to worry. Nothing could knock the gloss off this outstanding performance. It’s assisted by the playing of veterans Lenny Kaye (guitar) and Jay Dee Daugherty (drums), along with accomplished multi-instrumentalist Tony Shannon. But the plaudits have to go to Ms Smith. She towered over the Roundhouse’s performance space like a giant – she threw off an aura (I think that’s the word Serge) that was as entrancing and as captivating as the most exotic perfume. The night belonged entirely to her – and I still haven’t stopped talking about it. If I gave stars or points for concerts, which I don’t, this would have to be five and 95 respectively. Non plus ultra, as we sometimes say. - Nick Morgan

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