Friday, September 9, 2011

Review: Patti Smith @ Webster Hall, 9/8/11

Words: Damien, More Words: Geanna Barlaam


"We. Remember. EVERYTHING."

Those three words, spat and snarled out with the conviction of a blood oath, had a sting that will stick with us always. All the moreso because their source was Patti Smith, the true Godmother of Punk, who growled them to a rapt audience at Webster Hall as she literally demolished her black Stratocaster, ripping one string after another off the guitar at the end of her final song of the night, "Rock N Roll Nigger," bringing her outcasts, her people together as one at the end of an electrifying two hour set.

Patti Smith is a fucking legend, and you really don't get how completely true that is until you see her in person. Which is why, when we first heard that she'd be at Webster as the guest of the French public radio network France Inter performing a special set in advance of the 10th anniversary of the September 11 tragedy, we pretty much dropped everything to RSVP and get in. We were far from alone - within 15 minutes of the show's 8pm start time, Webster Hall was packed to near capacity with fans of all ages and nationalities, laser-focused on the stage on which the woman who had such an indelible impact on New York City's music and art scenes and the city's very history itself would soon appear.

Following a brief intro by France Inter's representatives - where we learned that the show would be broadcast in the network's homeland (and where I swear they called the network's president "Johnny Depp") - we were treated to... a 10 minute delay. But when THAT was over, the crowd erupted as Patti's backing band, including her guitarist and righthand man Lenny Kaye, stepped onto the stage before the poet-rocker herself appeared. The band kicked off with the slow, slinky chords and rhythms that guided Patti into the opening of "Redondo Beach" off of her classic debut album Horses.

Now here's the most immediate thing you find out about Patti Smith when you see her live: her voice is TIMELESS. Not a bit of the raw power, emotion, and skill that she had when she burst into the spotlight with Horses back in 1975 has been lost, and in that span of time she has mastered a talent that few artists ever achieve: the ability to make the stage a true extension of herself and, as Geanna noted, completely envelop the audience in the experience.

Patti, Lenny, and the band rolled through a absolutely killer set, hitting just about every classic Patti Smith track you'd ever want to hear. She presented the rumbling "Free Money" as a solution to our current economic situation, and the whirling succession of songs like "Birdland," "My Blakean Year," and "Beneath The Southern Cross" kept us hanging on her every word, dance, and exhorting gesture. And of course, seeing her perform "Because The Night" from 30 feet away is an experience that I can't even rightly explain in words.

For me, however, the highlight of the night was when Patti, standing on stage completely still as the cheers of the crowd dissolved into silence, uttered the incantation that heralded the beginning of the epic three-part song "Land." I really can't stress how completely incredible that performance was for us all, between Patti's sheer intensity and her interplay with Lenny Kaye. But I also couldn't help but be reminded that just a couple of weeks ago, we'd stood in pretty much the same spot in Webster Hall as our favorite Future Nostalgic band Deerhunter tore through an extended version of "Nothing Ever Happened" that featured Bradford Cox screaming Patti's iconic "Land" chant "horses, horses, horses, horses..." The homage spoke volumes to Patti Smith's enduring impact on rock music and fact that the beauty and freedom of her songs has been a true inspiration to musicians and fans of all ages and walks of life.

We love you and thank you, Patti.



Do you like time travel? Do you like legendary punk music? Of course you do, because both make life WAY more interesting and awesome.

Now what if we told you that you could time travel WHILE listening to legendary punk music being performed in your wide-eyed faces by the one and only goddess that is Patti Smith? What if we told you that you would literally leave that show feeling like you wanted to jump and cry and set things on fire?! You wouldn’t believe us. And you would be wrong.

For a little over 2 hours last night at Webster Hall, we were transported back to the 70’s. A free show presented by France Inter (though you did need to RSVP), the show was all Patti all the time (who needs an opener, anyway?) Getting right into it with "Redondo Beach," Patti’s voice was strong, full and completely present. She commanded the stage, and everyone in the audience could feel the remarkable presence that was before them. This is not a woman who does anything lightly. This is a woman who can rock your face off, call you to rebel against the injustice of society and still remain humble while telling the story of an attempted cover song gone wrong. For us she covered the Rolling Stones’ "Play with Fire," a sultry, languid rendition that she honestly could have stretched out into oblivion and I would not have batted an eye. I cannot say enough about her incredible voice, and I am not even going to try.

The crowd obviously went apeshit during "Beacause the Night," but went even more insane when she closed her set with "Land" (horses...horses... horses... horses...) and "Gloria." This lasted for like 10 poop-your-pants minutes, and the poetry and music that was coming out of Patti Smith’s mouth exploded into dissident bombs inside my ears that will now never be the same. She left me breathless. And bewildered. And totally, completely buzzed.

As Patti took the stage for her encore, she paused a moment to introduce “her people” in the band (Lenny Kaye, WHAAAAAAT!). As she finished, a voice in the crowd shouted, “We are your people, too!”

She smiled, agreed, and went into "People Have the Power," (could this have been more perfectly staged?) followed by "Rock & Roll Nigger," possibly one of my favorite Patti Smith songs of all time. She spoke to us about politics, about progress, about everything she hoped for our country and the direction in which it's heading. It struck me how her message has remained the same after so many years – history continues to repeat itself, and Patti is still here, raising Hell, a testament to her absolutely timeless voice.

“We remember EVERYTHING,” she called to us in her final words. “We remember everything.”

Yes, Patti, we always will.


So there you have it. In a year full of amazing concerts, Patti Smith's set last night stands out as one we'll never forget. Check out the full setlist below, and listen to the broadcast of the show on France Inter at 8pm local French time (2pm ET) today.

Patti Smith @ Webster Hall (9/8/2011)
  1. Redondo Beach
  2. Free Money
  3. Birdland
  4. My Blakean Year
  5. Play With Fire (Rolling Stones Cover)
  6. Beneath The Southern Cross
  7. We Three
  8. Ain't It Strange
  9. Pissing In A River
  10. Peaceable Kingdom
  11. Land
  12. Gloria
  1. People Have The Power
  2. Rock N Roll Nigger

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