Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Patti Smith at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Michael Stipe caught a birthday balloon for Patti Smith
 Before Patti Smith became a New York poet and the "Godmother of Punk," she worked on a factory assembly line in New Jersey. Inspired by the 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations, she moved to New York, worked in a book store, entered a romantic relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and later Blue Oyster Cult's Allen Lanier, and joined the St. Mark's Poetry Project, spending the early 1970s painting, writing, and reciting her poetry. By 1974, Smith began turning her poetry readings into rock readings, initially with guitarist Lenny Kaye, and later with a full band. Mapplethorpe did the iconic cover of her first album, 1975's Horses. Smith's first four albums were attributed to the Patti Smith Group; the subsequent seven albums were attributed simply to Patti Smith. Smith was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Her most recent album, Banga, was released in 2012.

Patti Smith headlined two consecutive nights at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom, and the second night was her 68th birthday. The audiences discovered that a frequent Smith collaborator, Michael Stipe of R.E.M., came out of seclusion to perform an unannounced six-song opening set. After intermission, Smith came on stage with Kaye and Jack Petruzzelli on guitars, Tony Shanahan on bass, and Jay Dee Daugherty on drums. Opening with a brooding, haunting "Dancing Barefoot" from her second album and gliding into the more driving "Fuji-San," a song in tribute to the people of Japan following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Smith was in fine voice and the band was tight and fluid, building on her nuances. Smith dedicated "This Is The Girl" in loving memory of the late Amy Winehouse, followed with the song Smith co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen, "Because the Night," and her version of "The Stable Song" by South African folkie Gregory Alan Isakov. Midway through the set, Smith walked off stage and let her band members cover a couple of songs originally recorded by the 1960s group Love. When she came back on stage, the band launched into a cover of the Beatles' "Birthday." Smith daughter, Jesse Paris Smith, brought out a cake with candles, followed by Stipe, television chef Mario Batali, actor Michael Pitt, and musician Andy York. All sang the traditional happy birthday song a capella, Smith blew out the candles and dozens of large white and silver balloons fell over the audience. The regular concert resumed with "Ain't It Strange" and a seven-minute surprisingly quiet and stripped down cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which included a couple of minutes of Smith's own poetry. Also surprising, perhaps, was that "Gloria" did not close the set. Instead, she donned eyeglasses and recited then sang from a book the lyrics to a nine-minute version of "Ghandi," much like how she started her music career. For the encore, Smith sang five songs with a choir composed of her celebrity guests, strapped on a guitar and ended the show by tearing each string. Even at 68, Smith proved to be a mighty feisty rocker.

Visit Patti Smith at www.pattismith.net.