Thursday, 6 February 2014

Patti Smith at Cadogan Hall

Patti Smith declared her gig at Cadogan Hall on 5 February as her William Burroughs Centenary Concert to tie in with the centenary of his birth. The gig was billed as an evening of words and music with Patti, Tony Shanahan (guitars and piano) and her son Jackson on guitar. It was a mix of songs, readings from Patti's 'Just Kids', some of her poems and a reading from Burroughs' 'Wild Boys'. Patti kept the Burroughs theme going throughout the gig as she kept referencing him, her chats with him way back when and which songs of hers he said he liked. Patti said she used to stalk him and wait for him to come out of the bar next to the Chelsea Hotel in New York.

The start of the gig was delayed due to the Tube strike to allow people to turn up and then on came Patti, greying hair tied in pigtails, regulation black jacket over white shirt and jeans messily tucked into black boots. She had arrived. She carried various books, papers and her glasses to the lectern and started telling us that people kept asking her what she would do to commemorate the birth of William Burroughs and her response was that she had to work and was booked on a tour, so that night was her commemorative concert. Later, she told us that his best advice was to keep her name clean and to get a gold American Express card.

We were given readings from 'Just Kids', Patti's book about growing up and meeting and sharing her life with Robert Mapplethorpe. It was similar to her gig at the Purcell Room last year as part of Yoko Ono's Meltdown festival and she gave us some of the same readings, her favourite readings. I love the short tale of Patti and Robert travelling up to Times Square on Christmas Eve 1969 to see the 'War Is Over (if you want it)' poster from John and Yoko and deciding that the '70s would be their decade. Which it was.

As well as the readings, Patti also gave us songs, a goodly mix over the years but with a slight emphasis on her early work. She dedicated 'Beneath The Southern Cross' to Lou Reed and her other friends who've left in the past year and gave us the perennial 'My Blakean Year' as well as the hits, ''Because The Night' and 'Dancing Barefoot'. It was nice that she said she wrote 'Because The Night' with a 'nice New Jersey man' and the lyrics were written for Jackson's father.

Patti did two covers, 'It's a Dream' by Neil Young and 'Beautiful Boy' by John Lennon. I'm not sure why she chose those songs but they seemed to fit in with the rest of the set nicely.

The stand-out songs for me were 'Birdland' (that she read from her lyric book until a couple of minutes into the song) and a great 'Horses/Gloria'. The slow build to the manic rock beats and all the while her voice and words taking us forward. I loved seeing Tony and Jackson both looking at her at one point clearly having no idea where she was going and waiting for Patti to give them the cue for the guitars to pile in again. That was performance art going on in front of us.

After much clap-clap-clapping we were given 'Banga' and 'People Have The Power' as an encore, with much howling and woofing going on during 'Banga'.

This was Patti at the peak of her powers, little girl giggles at one point and powerful, growling vocals at another, ad libbing her own lyrics. At one point I distinctly thought 'this is art happening in front of me', an artist in full control of her art and her audience. It was a most impressive performance. Patti left me elated, having glimpsed something bigger than myself, almost breathless, and that is what an artist does.

Thank you Patti, I'm looking forward to next time!

PS: I took this photo at Foyles on the Southbank in London when she came to read from 'Just Kids'. Patti's hair is greyer now but her artistic integrity is intact. And that's what matters.


Unknown said...

my friend, you have nailed exactly how my (nearly) husband and I felt as we left. x

Unknown said...

do you know who the drummer was btw?

Owen said...

Thank you, what a nice compliment. And no, sorry, didn't catch his name.