October 10, 2012
Her words, not mine: "I've still got it."
Not that the Godmother of Punk needed to tell a nearly packed house at Golden State Theatre Tuesday night. Patti Smith's happy birthday to John Lennon show proved she's still making provocative music and art, and even if her punk sound has softened, the edge and authenticity hasn't mellowed a bit.
Smith and her band performed tunes off her new album Banga, characterized by the same incisive lyrics the author/poet/songwriter has long been known for.
They also played a few audience favorites, like "Pissing in a River" and "Because the Night," a love song written to her long-time lover, the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
But when listeners shouted requests for classics, Smith said, "Fuck you, you're not going to get that." The two acoustic guitars onstage, she said, comprised a bluegrass ensemble.
The mellower sound highlights Smith's lush voice, which can sound more like a jazz singer's than a punk rocker's. And more somber songs, like "Peaceable Kingdom," which Smith penned after the activist Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting for Palestinian rights in 2003, kept the concert in a cerebral realm. She also sang "This is the Girl," a tribute to Amy Winehouse, off her new album.
Smith, dressed in her signature baggy, androgynous jeans and worn black jacket, also read excerpts from her 2010 memoir, Just Kids, and delivered some meandering thoughts on fashion and culture and John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
In an energized rendition of "Oh Yoko," Smith practically danced an Irish jig on stage. Even if there was a heightened awareness of mortality to the evening, with tributes to a number of people who have died, Smith's down-home, personal performance was sprinkled with chatter and jokes and banal observations.
She even interrupted her own train of thought to let the audience know she'd just farted—"But you can't hear it because the microphone's up here."