Patti Smith – Brighton Dome
Proto-punk legend refuses to go gently into that good night
Words Ben Graham
Photography Paul natkin/Wireimage
Patti Smith’s Banga, released earlier this year, was a breathtaking statement of revolutionary intent and bittersweet reflection, on behalf of those from the original rock generation who refuse to go gently into that good night, because the night belonged to them to begin with, and they never went gently. This show re-affirms all of the album’s strengths, proving that classic rock as played by sixty-somethings in waistcoats can be as thrilling and life-affirming as anything by today’s young bucks; expounding the heresy that age, experience and perspective can actually be virtues in youth-fixated rock’n’roll.
Kicking off with the chiming, proto-gothic limbo of 1979’s ‘Dancing Barefoot,’ Patti tells us how happy she is to be back in Brighton and “by the sea” — cue ‘Redondo Beach’ from her classic debut, Horses. Smith’s an old pro, of course, but her affection for the city seems genuine, its surface mix of experimental lifestyles, punk scuzz, green politics and arty middle-class liberalism reflecting her own apparent temperament. The love is mutual, and new songs ‘April Fool’ and ‘Fuji-San’ are as rapturously received as old favourites ‘Ghost Dance’ and ‘Pissing In A River,’ while ‘Distant Fingers’, a tale of alien abduction from 1976’s Radio Ethiopia, is a welcome obscurity. The song was co-written with Allen Lanier of Blue Oyster Cult, a band Smith often collaborated with early on, and the shared DNA between the Patti Smith Group and BOC comes to mind tonight during ‘Free Money,’ building from the kind of soft-rock piano and guitar intro we should all be too cool to be moved by, to a thundering punk climax that’s an early high point.
By now the band is so in the zone that the ferocious triple-guitar thrash of ‘Beneath The Southern Cross’ actually explodes a stage-light over the head of a cadaverous yet-still dapper Lenny Kaye. Even if he hadn’t been Smith’s guitarist and writing partner for most of the past 38 years, Kaye’s place in music history would be assured for compiling the original Nuggets collection of then-forgotten mid-sixties garage punk, and so if he wants to lead the band in a medley of the entire box set while Patti crawls along the front of the stage, I sure won’t object. In the event, he settles for The Strangeloves’ ‘Night Time’, the Blues Magoos’ ‘We Ain’t Got Nuthin’ Yet,’ ‘Born To Lose’ by the Heartbreakers and the Seeds’ ‘Pushing Too Hard’ which, as Patti returns to the mic, threatens to morph into ‘Gloria’. But of course, they save that for the set’s climax, following the Shangri-Las-like Amy Winehouse tribute ‘This Is The Girl’ and a somewhat perfunctory, if unavoidably rousing, ‘Because The Night.’
The band has been joined tonight by Smith’s son Jackson, just flown in from Detroit, who mugs and grins throughout on third guitar, aware he’s pretty much surplus to requirement but enjoying himself nonetheless and providing an entertaining foil to his mother’s often intense seriousness. And if the group at times seem a little bored when playing the hits, it’s only because Patti’s remarkable fire and passion otherwise make for such sharp contrast. It’s impossible not to be energised by her performance and her words — one aside about the Pussy Riot jailings hits home with its angry eloquence, much as we may have grown weary of western musicians calling for their release.
“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” says the woman who earlier forgot the words to one of her newer songs, yet refuses to have her lyrics on a stand onstage with her, as so many icons of her vintage do as a matter of course. “Don’t be afraid to be broke; don’t be afraid to go to prison. You still have your blood, your mind, your imagination.” And as the final extemporisations of a ferocious ‘Rock N’ Roll Nigger’ fade out, Smith & co leave the stage having led by example. ‘This is what we did,’ they could almost be saying, ‘the rest is up to you.’