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Patti Smith: Icon

Patti Smith
Royal Oak Music Theater
Royal Oak, Michigan
16 September 2019

Funny thing about icons… sometimes they come right to your neighborhood. Punk pioneer and art-culture hero Patti Smith snuck up on me this autumn, so I went directly from day-care drop off to the box office to buy a ticket. I consider Patti to be a home-girl, even though she was born in Chicago, grew up in New Jersey and is closely associated with New York City’s art scene. She married MC5 guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith back in the 80s and they raised their two children together in nearby St. Clair Shores. Close enough for rock and roll.

Her live performance was truly stunning. She opened with a recitation of the lyrics to “People Have the Power” and a shiver of excitement reverberated though my body. The legendary Lenny Kaye and the band then lurched into the opening psychedelic swirl of Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced” and Patti stepped to the mic, as bold and fearless as ever. Her set was a master class on how to not give a fuck. She spat, snarled and wailed through a sampling of her classics like “Redondo Beach” and “Because the Night,” as well as a selection of interesting covers. In addition to the Hendrix opener, she and the band took a spin on Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” and the Stones’ “I’m Free.” But her choice to cover “Beds are Burning,” an Aboriginal land-rights song by Australia’s Midnight Oil was most interesting. It was very much in keeping with her theme of our collective power to push back against the relentless inertia of demagogues and plutocrats. This shit is not inevitable. Come together and rise up!

The Jackson Smith Band opened the show and Patti brought Jackson (her son) up on guitar and hometown-bonus Jesse (her daughter) on keys to help her finish the set. Jackson and Jesse kibitzed a bit with each other on stage, and Patti remarked that it was just like being in her kitchen with these two. They finished strong, exhorting the crowd with “People Have the Power” and a blistering rendition of Patti’s quintessential take on “Gloria.”

This icon has not faded. She remains a beacon of truth, honesty and power.

Here’s Patti performing “Free Money” from her debut record Horses. (This is kind of a stealth video grab, as I was pretty close and didn’t want to be too conspicuous.):

Check out the entire setlist here.