Alban Arena, St Albans, 10th August 2013
Patti Smith is a true artist; Far from being circumspect she has continually thrown aside all expectations and conventions in favour of letting her work speak for itself. In the 70s she emerged at the vanguard of popular music culture after being dubbed the 'poet laureate of punk.' Hugely influential, she has inspired the likes of REM and Morrissey and her songs have been re-recorded by the likes of U2 and Marilyn Manson.But she has always seemed to ride alongside the likes of Cohen and Dylan never quite achieving the same kind of commercial success.
However, the fact that she has remained outside mainstream music whilst simultaneously influencing it, is possibly the key to her success as an artist. She is an outsider, a rebel, a pioneer and a poet. It is perhaps little wonder when she took to the stage she was once again sporting a 'Mockinjay' pin badge on her jacket. For those unfamiliar with the image taken from the futuristic novel The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins it signifies hope, rebellion, inspiration and the power of the people, even (People have the Power?) In fact many of the things that encompass Patti Smith.
Words and Music is another performance piece from Patti featuring fellow writer and musician Tony Shanahan. The show is a collection of Smiths Music, set against readings from her book Just Kids: A funny and heartbreaking memoir of her early years in New York with fellow artist Robert Mapplethorne.
She appears comfortable on stage, unfazed by forgetting words or false starts, taking whatever happens in her stride. It is as if we were watching her perform at an intimate recital in CBGB or a café in Greenwich Village. For a few numbers she strums an old guitar on which she said her late husband Fred 'Sonic' Smith (of the MC5) taught her “just enough chords to write a song, just not in public” she jokes. Shanahan and Smith work impeccably well together whether they are performing Dancing Barefoot or a cover version of Eddie Cochran'sSumertime Blues; so good it could almost have been a Patti Smith original. Their paired down set with just guitar and occasionally piano really does focus the evening on the words and music. A masterful storyteller, she moves with ease between the characters in her songs be they male or female, giving them life and drawing the audience in. Although Gloria is missing from the set she does offer us some other favourites: great stripped down versions of Redondo Beach, Pissing In The River and Beneath The Southern Cross, the latter features some haunting harmonies from Shanahan.There are also somenew gems This Is The Girl, a tribute to Amy Winehouse and a welcome into the world Patti Smith style for Prince George with a cover of John Lennon's Beautiful Boy. Of course the set ends with her most widely known song Because The Night. A great live version and a perfect way to end the evening.
I have never seen such a lively audience at the Alban Arena. In anticipation of an encore many of the audience rush the stage to get close to this legend and get firmly caught up in her exuberance and spirit. She rouses the usually sedate St Albans audience to start their own rebellion (which they do with fervency) during Banga and People have the Power, once again proving that only Patti Smith has the co jones to do what she does - and that is to be the inimitable Patti Smith.