For a little over four decades, Patti Smith has been one of the most influential figures in punk rock music. Along with being a prolific singer/songwriter, Smith is also a bestselling author with Just Kids– a memoir devoted to her relationship with photographer Robert Maplethorpe. Now at 72, Smith continues to perform concerts and even stages readings of her work. On Monday April 29, Smith performed a concert at the Met in Philadelphia- along with her band. Smith is no stranger to Philadelphia, as she spent most of her childhood in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area.
The show started a little after 8 pm. Whereas most bands might have a song played over the speakers or a video playing, Patti Smith and her band simply walked up on stage. The audience erupted into a round of applause while Smith, wearing a knitted cap, waved to her audience. Smith opened with “April Fool,” a song from her latest album Banga from 2012. Throughout the night, Smith was very expressive- putting her hands on her hips and almost acting out the songs. As the song wrapped up, Smith took off her cap and threw it in the air behind her- Mary Tyler Moore style.
“I like to get my costume change out of the way” Smith remarked.
From there on, Smith went through another 15-16 songs- all coming from different parts of her career. Throughout the night, Smith and her band played several cover tunes such as Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced” and Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning.” Smith’s longtime collaborator Lenny Kaye was given a portion of the show where he sang lead vocals on covers of the Avengers’ “The American in Me” and the Rolling Stones’ “I’m Free.” With a songbook as big as Smith’s, some might wonder why someone like her would choose to perform other songs. Over the years, Smith has spoken about her love for her favorite bands and musicians. She even recorded an album’s worth of covers in 2007 with Twelve. The way I see it, it’s Smith’s way of showing her appreciation for her favorite musicians.
While there were several cover tunes, there were plenty of Patti Smith tunes played. Early on in the show, Smith an her band played some of Smith’s classics such as the reggae ska-flavored “Redondo Beach” and many times covered “Dancing Barefoot.” Later album cuts came in the form of “My Blakean Year” from 2004’s Trampin’ and “Beneath the Southern Cross” from 1996’s Gone Again. The former saw Smith talking about the song’s subject (William Blake) while the latter was dedicated to musician Sam Shepard. It was during “Southern Cross” where Smith and her band began the song with two false starts. Smith apologized to the audience.
“My guitar was so loud I couldn’t hear anybody else and I’m the least important thing.” Smith explained. “So sorry I fucked that up and I’m not gonna go all the way back to the beginning because we did that perfect.”
Given the song was dedicated to the late Mr. Shepard, who died in 2017, Smith proceeded to tell more about her friend.
“Sam really loved it when I screwed up” Smith said. “It was his favorite part of anything that I did. I’d say ‘Did you think I sung this song good?’ and he goes ‘Oh sure Patti Lee but what I really liked is when you fouled up that other song.’” Given that her band had made a mistake, Smith was sure that Shepard was laughing from above.
On the third try, the band nailed it- especially Smith’s son Jackson. Towards the end of the song, Jackson was wailing away on his guitar. More dedications came in the form of the hard rocking “25th Floor,” a song that Smith had written in 1978 inspired by her late husband- MC5 guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith. While these small tributes may not be seen as much, it’s the thought that counts. Along with her cover tunes, it’s touching to see Smith still paying tribute to her fallen friends and family.
Along with maintaining a great stage presence throughout the night, Smith was also funny. The aforementioned false starts during “Southern Cross” are an example of this. However, it only got better as the show moved along. Before the band went into “Because the Night,” there were some concert goers from above that were yelling out unintelligible words to Smith.
“What are you ranglin’ about?” Smith asked. “You know what it sounds like from here? Did you ever, like, see those Snoopy cartoons when the grownups talk? So what is it?”
Smith quieted the audience and listened again. It turned out security wasn’t letting them dance.
“They won’t let you dance” Smith replied in a mocking tone. “You got two fucking legs. Get up and dance!”
The audience erupted into cheers and applause. However, Smith wasn’t finished.
“Hey! How about they won’t let me in another country so I can feed my children?! That’s something to complain about, man! You wanna dance? THEN FUCKING DANCE!”
The cheers and applause grew louder until the opening piano line from “Because the Night” was played. Released in 1978 on her Easter album, the Smith & Bruce Springsteen penned hit song was a favorite of the night. During the chorus, Smith lead the audience in singing it with her and the band. Throughout the night, Smith was very conversational with the audience. After performing “Pissing in a River,” Smith spoke to the audience again.
“You know, I went to third grade in Philadelphia” Smith said, while taking a sip from her mug onstage. “Actually I went to first grade in Philadelphia, I went to second grade in Philadelphia, and third grade in Philadelphia. And I learned everything in those three grades. So I lived in New York and it’s a big city but I got all my moves from first, second and third grade.”
Smith went on to talk about how she and her sister came back to visit the “downtrodden” place where they grew up. Not only was the land leveled but they had leveled “the actual Earth it was on.” For Smith and her sister, it was all new.
“But I remember every wild flower, every firefly. I remember every Philadelphia sky. So don’t give me any shit.”
Now joined with daughter Jesse on keyboards, Smith proceeded to go into a gritty & passionate performance of “Land”- a nine minute epic from her 1975 debut album Horses. Smith really threw herself into the performance, walking all over the stage- as if she were preaching a punk rock sermon. This then lead into her and the band singing her rendition of Van Morrison and Them’s “Gloria”- which had everyone on their feet singing along. While Smith and the band exited the stage afterwards, they returned for a two song encore- closing the night out with a cover “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and then finally “People Have The Power.”
Seeing Patti Smith and her band in concert was an amazing experience. Even at 72 years old, Smith still has it. If she happens to come to your town, I highly recommend seeing her.
- April Fool
- Are You Experienced? (Jimi Hendrix cover)
- Redondo Beach
- My Blakean Year
- Dancing Barefoot
- Beds Are Burning (Midnight Oil cover)
- Beneath the Southern Cross
- The American in Me (Avengers cover)
- I’m Free [w/ Walk on the Wild Side] (Rolling Stones/Lou Reed cover)
- 25th Floor
- Because the Night
- Pissing in a River
- Gloria (Them cover)
- A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Bob Dylan cover)
- People Have the Power
I'm a writer/journalist with a passion for music and pop culture. Having graduated from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, PA in 2014, I've been looking for a platform in which I can share my passions. Since 2009, I've been posting to my own blog- The Walrus' Music Blog- via Blogger. I'm also the author of two self-published books, "The Camp: Stories from the Summer" and "The College: Stories from King's." Together, the two books cover the story of my life from 2004 to 2014. I've been lucky enough to interview several of my favorite musicians over the years and go to concerts from time to time. I'm also very devoted to the CBS reality TV show Survivor, which I started watching in 2002 when its fourth season started. I currently live in New Jersey.