Monday, February 2, 2015
She’s one of the most eloquent and visceral artists in rock & roll — part poet, part punk priestess. And today, at 68 years old, she’s part proud grandma, too.
Patti Smith sold out two nights at the Ace Hotel’s sizeable seated theatre last week, and the shows were by all accounts glorious. But seeing the legendary performer at the more intimate Roxy Theatre on the Sunset Strip last night was not only more historic — it had to be a more surreal experience.
There was the all-star turnout, for starters: Morrissey, Johnny Depp, Tim Robbins, Thurston Moore, Susanna Hoffs, Rosanna Arquette, Rodney Bingenheimer, Diplo, Jimmy Iovine, and gusting through the Roxy’s back entrance (nearly knocking us over) to join Iovine just before showtime, Pharrell and his entourage.
The Roxy’s VIP section has seen its share of celebrities, of course, but this bizarre mixed bag was hard to miss. Even Patti herself took notice, dedicating one of her first numbers to The Moz and later speaking of Iovine’s influence and production on her acclaimed album Easter, a moment which led into a highlight of the evening, a bewitching rendition of “Because the Night.”
Smith's vocals have not lost their depth nor their majesty. A lot of the show leaned towards boho, beat-style balladry, during which she conveyed a sweet sort of gentleness that suits her well at this stage in her career, and fit in with her reminiscences about playing The Strip in the past.
We’ve always preferred her more high-energy freakouts to the slow stuff, though, and thankfully there was a nice smattering to that too. She didn’t do her much buzzed-about cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as she did at the Ace, but she did offer a dreamy take on John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy,” dedicated to Bill Murray (we don’t think he was there) and her grandson Frederick, named after her late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith.
Mentions of her longtime partner in art and life were to be expected, but other shout-outs abounded throughout the night too. In addition to Morrissey and Iovine, there was a song dedicated to Amy Winehouse (“This Is the Girl”), and a funny diatribe about Dr. Who’s David Tennant before “Distant Fingers.” She also referenced a less famous figure: songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov, whose “The Stable Song” she covered, telling us to Google it. We did and lucky him. The song itself was a bit lifeless, but Smith clearly connected with it.
Her connection to the crowd was most intense during two obvious rousers, “People Have the Power” and “Gandhi.” But her most powerful moment was near the end of the show when she read Sylvia Plath’s poem, “Eye-Mote,” before going into an insane version of “Land” off of her masterpiece, Horses. Equally gritty and grand, "Gloria" for the encore closed it all out.
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Smith’s mane may be completely grey these days and she might be less anarchic than she once was. But age hasn’t muted her message or her music. Her gift for melding tenderness with tempestuousness remains, and last night, she proved there’s no reason to stop the stampeding any time soon.