We have seen many amazing gigs in 2018 but only one could be the winner, so this was our Gig of the Year: Patti Smith and Her Band at Manchester Apollo, 05/06/2018. Happy 72nd birthday to the legend that is Patti Smith and on behalf of Eighth Day Magazine / EDC, we would like to wish you all an amazing 2019!
Review by Alice Jones-Rodgers, Photography by Scott Rodgers.
A stage hand places a cup of vodka next to the microphone and drapes an Arthur Rimbaud T-shirt over an amplifier. A palpable wave of anticipation circulates around the Apollo as ‘70s New York punk music plays over the PA. Stifled cheers are heard as several technicians wander on and off stage to test out the equipment. A five piece band take position and from the shadows of stage left, a grey haired figure emerges wearing a suit jacket with a white ribbon tied through the buttonhole coupled with a white T-shirt and jeans to rapturous applause and takes position at the microphone. Tonight, Manchester’s 02 Apollo is playing host to a living legend, Patti Smith. She waves and smiles at the audience before signaling her band, consisting of longtime members, guitarist Lenny Kaye and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty alongside newer recruits, bassist / pianist Tony Shanahan; guitarist / bassist Andrew York and Smith’s guitar playing son, Jackson, to start playing the reggae-influenced Horses classic, ‘Redondo Beach’.
Tonight, ‘Redondo Beach’, 43 years after its first release, sounds just as original and poetically intense as it has always done. As Smith’s tale of her sister, Linda’s suspected suicide ends, Smith quips, “There is another band in town tonight.” That band, of course, is the Rolling Stones, who are tonight performing at Old Trafford. The 71 year old puts on her spectacles, picks up a piece of paper and continues, “I can’t remember the lyrics to this song. I can barely remember the lyrics to my own” and the band break into a rendition of ‘Paint It, Black’. This is not merely a throwaway choice of song to cover but, with Smith being ever the book lover, one that has been chosen due to its literary-influenced lyrical content. Having already chosen to adorn an amplifier with a T-shirt depicting Rimbaud, her lifelong idol, Smith now takes on a song which took its lyric “I turn my head until the darkness goes” from James Joyce’s Ulysses. Just as she had done with her cover of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’ for her 2007 album, Twelve, Smith brings a whole new dimension to a rock standard. Her cover of ‘Paint It, Black’ may lack quite the same sort of creative vibrancy as, say, her 1974 cover of ‘Hey Joe’, in which she brilliantly changed the gender of the song’s protagonist to depict Joe as the then recently kidnapped fugitive heiress Patty Hearst, but it is unique because nothing Smith does, including cover versions, is without careful thought and, despite her many copyists, she is one of rock’s true one offs.
“I should have six Mercedes”, jokes Smith in reference to ‘the other band in town’. “Some asshole journalist will say that. They aren’t all assholes, but some are”, she continues. I look at the notebook and pen held in my hand and sigh a breath of relief. “Sorry I was late tonight. I was in ITV3 heaven last night: Lewis, DCI Banks, A Touch of Frost and I woke up in my clothes so I needed to change and I couldn’t find my toothbrush”, she says, giving us a further glimpse into her very normal off-stage life. She picks up an acoustic guitar and begins to play the opening strains of her beautiful ode to William Blake, ‘My Blakean Year’ from her 2004 album Trampin’. Further giving impetus to her sometime reputation as the female Bob Dylan, the acoustic folk vibe is continued into the show’s following number, ‘Ghost Dance’, on which it is joined by suitably haunting percussion and backing vocals which 40 years after its initial release on Smith’s third album Easter now sound like the spectral voices of all the people whom Smith has lost from her life since.
What follows is truly remarkable. Shanahan begins a rolling bass line reminiscent of The Doors’ ‘Riders on a Storm’, which is joined by a series of eerie guitar effects courtesy of Kaye, whilst Smith recites one of her famous monologues. The monologue, on this occasion about drilling for oil in the pursuit of a dream lifestyle at the expense of other peoples’ way of life, then evolves into another rather cleverly chosen cover version, this time of Australian rock band Midnight Oil’s 1987 hit, ‘Beds Are Burning’. ‘Beds Are Burning’ is about the plight of Aboriginal group, the Pintupi. The Pintupi were the last Aboriginal group to be forced to leave their traditional lifestyle. Note here the placing of ‘Beds Are Burning’, which implores the Australian government to give the land back to the Pintupi, in the set list after ‘Ghost Dance’. The Ghost Dance was a Native American Indian ritual whereby if practiced, buffalo would rise from the ground, trample the white men to death in their dreams and the dead would return, restoring America to the Indians.
After Smith has taken time to indulge in an obligatory punk rock spit on the stage, the band move into the rough and raw Radio Ethiopia track ‘Ain’t It Strange’, which gives the audience a sense of what it must have been like in Max’s Kansas City all those years ago. Following this, Smith once again adorns her acoustic guitar and plays the first thing she ever learnt on it, a very simple little pattern based around a D chord, taught to her by her late husband, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith. This motif eventually became ‘Beneath the Southern Cross’ from the 1996 album, Gone Again and tonight, she dedicates it to her actor and playwright friend Sam Shephard, who died last year. Smith’s limited guitar playing ability at that point in time resulted in a song with an almost drone-like quality which on stage sounds positively hypnotic, building up into a psychedelic full band jam in its middle section. During the course of ‘Beneath the Southern Cross’, Smith becomes not just a rock star but a messiah figure and with one glance into the audience, the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear and the dead are raised.
After preaching the good news, Smith introduces her band and exits the stage, leaving the newly healed congregation in the capable hands of Kaye, who leads the band into a cover of ‘Night Time’ by The Strangeloves, before Shanahan joins him on vocals to perform a further cover, ‘People Who Died’ by The Jim Carroll Band, dedicated to The Fall’s Mark E. Smith, who died in January this year.
Smith returns to the stage and jokes to the audience, “It has been 44 years since we recorded our first album. I never thought I would make it past 30” before playing Gone Again’s bitingly provocative first single, ‘Summer Cannibals’, a song about lesbian activities and the conservative southern states, no less. Complete with that glorious teeth gnashing “eat, eat, eat” refrain, ‘Summer Cannibals’ is just the appetiser for a delicious finale to this wondrous feast.
This “banquet on which we feed” continues into Smith’s rock behemoth ‘Because the Night’, which she dedicates to her late husband. She playfully smiles and waves before holding out her microphone for the enraptured audience to sing back the song. This is followed by the ever-beautiful but slightly unsettling ‘Pissing in A River’. As the song builds to its climactic conclusion, somebody in the crowd screams out, “We love you Patti!” She then begins the slow build up to the final song of the main set, “M – A – N – C – H – E – S – T – E – R – A – P – O – L – L – O – G – L – O – R – I – A.”
“Jesus did for somebody’s sins, but not mine”, she sings in a voice which has remained miraculously unchanged since ‘Gloria: In Excelsis Deo’ was first heard as the opening track on Horses. As the song shifts into its second movement courtesy of one of the most famous drum figures in rock ‘n’ roll, played by exactly the same drummer who brought it to us all those years ago, the crowd is het up into a frenzy. This frenzy is escalated yet further when Smith walks to the front of the stage to greet her fans. She pauses to smile and nod at me as I hold my notebook aloft whilst clapping along to ‘Gloria: In Excelsis Deo’’s elongated end section and I am overwhelmed. Not all we journalists are “assholes” after all.
Smith and her band exit the stage to a level of applause only reserved for the biggest of rock legends before the inevitable cheers for more. Upon reappearing, Smith tells us it is Shanahan’s birthday and leads us into a heartfelt rendition of the Elvis Presley classic ‘I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You’, complete with a stunning guitar solo played by Jackson Smith.
The show ends with ‘People Have the Power’ from 1988’s Dream of Life, which, with lines such as “People have the power to redeem the work of fools” is even more relevant in today’s climate than it was thirty years ago. At the end of ‘People Have the Power’, Smith tells the crowd, “And you have!” before guiding her band walk to the edge of the stage to take photographs of the audience and say their goodbyes. Already overwhelmed by Smith giving my notebook and I the nod of approval earlier in the show, I am now almost driven to tears at Smith’s final messianic message and the knowledge I have been standing mere feet away from this ground breaking rock idol, poet and artist; godmother of punk and inspiration to women and creative souls the world over.