The house-lights go down. A huge cheer erupts from the crowd when — from the darkness of the stage — a piano starts playing some of rock’s most recognisable chords. The cheer rises in intensity when the spot-light picks out the commanding figure of Patti Smith. She sings the words: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins… but not mine…”.
And I think to myself, “it just doesn’t get any better than this”.
Patti Smith played Dublin last weekend. She’s touring the new album, Twelve, which is an album of covers. Some people have criticised her for this, but she’s unapologetic. “If anyone asks you why I’ve done a covers album”, she said during the gig, “tell them Patti said: because I wanted to!”
I haven’t actually heard Twelve yet. But Patti Smith has always been better live than on record. She’s got that thing… It… whatever It is… and It can’t be captured on a record. You have to be there to experience It. So it matters little what the critics are saying about her version of Smells Like Teen Spirit; because if you’re lucky enough to be in the same room as Patti Smith when she’s singing, you get taken to a place where the words of critics don’t mean shit.
From Gloria she went straight into Redondo Beach and I briefly thrilled at the idea that she might be playing Horses in its entirety. In the end though, she played songs from almost every album including an encore of Babelogue / Rock & Roll Nigger that rocked like the proverbial bag of bastids. So as well as some excellent covers; Soul Kitchen, Within You Without You, Gimme Shelter, Are You Experienced and a version of White Rabbit on which — to lift a line — the whole building seemed to be playing bass; we also got some rarely-heard classics… Pissing In A River from Radio Ethiopia, Beneath The Southern Cross from the under-rated Gone Again and the soaring Free Money from Horses. Of course, Because The Night got a run out as is traditional.
And like all truly great artists who’ve been around for a while, I could have put together an entire alternative set-list of songs she didn’t play, and it would have been just as good. It’s impossible for a Patti Smith gig to ever be long enough.
The venue — Vicar Street — is a nice size. Wherever you are, you’re not far from the stage and although modern health and safety regulations mean that PA-systems are never as loud as I want them to be any more, the sound was nonetheless excellent. And most importantly, the band was awesome. Lenny Kaye has been playing guitar with Patti since the very first album and it shows. In a good way. Also on guitar is Patti’s son, Jackson, who I first saw (playing Smoke on The Water) on stage at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire when he was in his early teens! Jay Dee Daugherty — one time drummer with The Church — brings a vaguely jazzy influence to the band… though make no mistake, he can rock when the need arises. And Tony Shanahan is the new bass-player and keyboardist… from the opening chords of Gloria to the pounding backing for White Rabbit, he couldn’t have been better.
If you’re dithering about whether or not to see Patti Smith on this tour, then let me urge you to grab a ticket. There are very few people in the same league when it comes to playing live. She’s still got the passion and urgency that can pick up an entire audience and carry them with her to the sublime.
Afterwards I was buzzing. Proper buzzing. I wandered the empty streets of Dublin for a full hour before I could even consider dealing with public transport. What a gig!