I went to see Patti Smith live in concert, at the Troxy in East London this week. I am still buzzing from the experience. She was BRILLIANT!
There are a few bands and artists where I remember exactly when I got to know their music, when I got hooked. Patti Smith is one of them. In the early nineteen nineties, I had dropped out of university and was a bit lost in life. I lived with my Dad and stepmum. My stepsister would come home from her uni for the summers, and we’d sit in her attic bedroom drinking and listening to music.
I had always been, and still am I suppose, quite a ‘pop’ girl. I didn’t know much about rock and roll in its more dirty, dark, gritty form. So I would sit wide eyed and open mouthed as my quite grungey stepsister introduced me to record after record (and it was vinyl) of wondrous music. Marc Bolan and T Rex, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, PJ Harvey, Bongwater, Nirvana, Mudhoney and Patti Smith.
Patti Smith and PJ Harvey were revelations to me. Those of you who know me as bolshy, mouthy, rude QRG may be surprised to hear that as a young woman I used to be very shy and repressed. In some ways I still am, I suppose. So these two screaming dervishes, who could also play guitar and write beautiful love songs as well as rousing anthems had me mesmerised. They are part of the fanfuckingtastic tradition of hard, kick ass Punk Women from Debbie Harry to Toyah to Siouxsie Sioux to Poly Styrene. Patti is also a good example of the Woman Artist As Witch, with her long, scraggy dark hair, her irreverent approach to God and her witch-like refusal to conform to anyone’s idea of what a woman should look like, do or say.
Has Patti maintained her joie de vivre? Her husky but tuneful voice? Her no nonsense approach to performance? You bet she has. The 66 year old artist is as full of energy and panache as ever. And, as I proceed with alarming pace through my fifth decade, I think she is as good a role model to have as any.
The most inspiring thing about her show and her for me, currently, is how she WONT GIVE UP. The tracks she played from her current album sounded as complex and memorable as her earlier, infamous work. This Is The Girl, for example, that she dedicated to the late great Amy Winehouse sounds to me like an instant classic:
It is tempting to dismiss ageing popstars as past their peak, and just playing for the money, or because they need attention. In some cases that is probably a fair assessment. But seeing Patti Smith jumping and waving (and at one point barking like a dog) on stage, I was struck by her energy, drive, talent and POWER. Why take up knitting and re-releasing box sets (I’m looking at you Morrissey and Marr) when you could be doing what you do best, and loving every minute of it? And as if to underline my point, Patti played her old Horses track ‘Redondo Beach’ for Moz himself. ‘I went looking for you, are you gone, gone?’
But of course the climax of the gig was GLORIA and a theatre full of fans singing along: ‘G – L – O -R -I -A’! The line ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine’ is one of Patti Smith’s most famous utterances. As a very non-militant atheist I don’t tend to like songs dissing religion. But there is something reassuring about Patti’s Heresy. Partly maybe because she comes from a religious background, and though is critical of the church and its institutional status, she maintains a very spiritual ethos and passion. During the gig she spoke in support of Pussy Riot, and their blasphemous acts in Russian churches. But when at the end she told us we should ‘pray any way you fucking want to’ the whole audience seemed ready to get down on their knees.