Patti Smith in Pittsburgh
by John Patrick Gatta on March 30, 2017
Patti Smith and Her Band
Carnegie Music Hall of Oakland
Near the end of her show, Patti Smith thanked the sold out rapturous crowd for giving her the much-needed energy to make it through the two-hour concert at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Music Hall.
Early on, she claimed to have no health problems but felt chest tightness as a result of the oncoming snow weather system coming through the area. Smith apologized several times due to feeling that she wasn’t giving her all. That humility wasn’t necessary as the punk poet laureate and her longtime backing musicians, which included original Patti Smith Group members Lenny Kaye (guitar/bass) and Jay Dee Daugherty (drums), her son Jackson (bass/guitar) and Tony Shanahan (keyboards/bass), earned their multiple standing ovations.
Together, they showed that rock ‘n’ roll and art could coexist and become an incendiary powder keg of passionate and emotional music that still makes you want to stand up and shake your ass.
The current tour celebrates her debut album, Horses. Released in 1975 and with its iconic cover photo by Robert Mapplethorpe, it was a rebellious pushback to the singer-songwriter soft rock that dominated the charts. The work made an impact on future generations of musicians including Michael Stipe, U2, The Smiths, Courtney Love, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Shirely Manson (Garbage) and The Slits among others.
Rather than just being a nostalgic trip for those in attendance who latched on to the release over the past four decades, playing the album from start to finish actually empowered “Horses” with the bucking the system it originally encompassed and continues to exhibit today.
The intense spirit revved up right from the start with her take on Them’s “Gloria” and the defiant opening line, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.” That number was reprised when the half-sung, half-poetry of “Land” built to its crescendo.
Moving through Side A of the album’s vinyl version, next was the reggae by way of Television rhythms heard in “Redondo Beach,” followed by the revised poetry as jazz improvisation displayed in “Birdland.”
In one of many illuminating between-song introductions she explained that her dream about Jim Morrison emerging from a statue and flying away with the help of angel’s wings set up the basis for “Break It Up.” Prior to performing the song, she described her refusal to participate in folk concert sing-alongs yet sheepishly asked the audience to shout out the title when it came up in the song.
Later, she returned to the subject of folk music and revealed that while she didn’t sing at the Joan Baez concert back in the ‘60s they did duet backstage in Italy. Showing she was at peace with such a folk tradition, that was followed by a brief rendition of “Kumbiya.”
Morrison’s presence arrived again during “Elegie,” the final track from Horses that namechecked many of those who inspired and affected Smith before moving to the great beyond – her husband Fred “Sonic” Smith (MC5), Jimi Hendrix, Joey, Dee, Tommy and Johnny Ramone, David Bowie and Prince.
The full album performance was enough to leave her fans satisfied for the evening but another seven songs became a solid reminder that Smith’s creative sparks didn’t end with that release.
The second half began with her stepping offstage for some fresh air. Her band then leaned into their garage rock influences and played two Love covers – “My Little Red Book” and “7 and 7 Is.”
On her return Smith continued with a fiery “Pissing in the River,” an ode to immigrants on “Citizen Ship,” her love song to her husband on “Because the Night” and summed up the main set with the timeless anthem “People Have the Power.”
Coming back for an encore, the group tore through The Who’s “My Generation,” which culminated with Smith strapping on a guitar for the first time during the night in order to elicit moaning groaning feedback and free form about her generation and revolution and its relationship to now.
“Behold the greatest weapon of my generation!” she screamed. It’s treated her well all these years. May it continue to do so.
Authors: John Patrick Gatta