Patti Smith Review: Royal Albert Hall – 5/10/21

Finally, after nearly 2 years (thank you covid!!) I eventually get to see Patti Smith again.  She is much as I remember, scruffy long grey hair, minimal make up, slept in ill-fitting kind of cool clothes (I’m sure they are quite expensive) and although now 74 she seems to have looked the same for the last 20 odd years.

Howls of approval, from a near capacity RAH, as Patti walks on stage with regular stalwarts Jay Dee Daugherty and Lenny Kaye.  They are supplemented with her daughter Jesse on piano and son Jackson on guitar.

Patti has presence in abundance and her voice is unmistakable.  Physically still strong and emotionally connected to a devoted audience.  I still can’t fathom how she has become associated with the “punk legend and poet laureate” moniker as her music is certainly not of that genre, poetry on the other hand she excels at.  I guess you could describe her as an American national treasure.

She kicks off with ‘Dancing Barefoot’, then the reggae beats of ‘Redondo Beach’, dedicated to the late Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.  In fact, strangely enough given her extensive back catalogue the band do many covers including ones from Rolling Stones (dedicated to the late legend Charlie Watts), The Who, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and of course Them’s ‘Gloria’ which she has appropriated for herself.

In-between songs we get treated to lengthy monologues both informative and witty, to an entranced crowd hanging on her every word.  She talks about American revolutionary history, the founding fathers and political activist Thomas Paine and his travails in America/UK/France (he seemed to be imprisoned rather a lot 😊).  She jokes about her lack of sleep and the ITV3 detective shows that kept her going, ink stains on her sleeve just like Mozart and Beethoven at parties so she’s in good company. Says go visit Bunhill Fields where Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan and William Blake are buried and deals with audience questions e.g. “How do you stay so cool?” “Sorry, It’s genetic.”.

Set List (Click on the 5 coloured links to view the YouTube video of song)

  1. Dancing Barefoot (Wave – 1979)
  2. Redondo Beach (Horses – 1975)
  3. Grateful (Gung Ho – 2000)
  4. My Blakean Year (Trampin’ – 2004)
  5. Birdland (Horses – 1975)
  6. Blame It on the Sun
    (Live at Electric Lady EP – 2021; Stevie Wonder cover)
  7. Free Money (Horses – 1975)
  8. I’m Free
    (Rolling Stones cover)
  9. Walk on the Wild Side
    (Lou Reed cover)
  10. Ain’t it Strange (Radio Ethiopia, 1976)
  11. Because the Night (Easter – 1978)
  12. One Too Many Mornings
    (Live at Electric Lady EP – 2021, Bob Dylan cover)
  13. Pissing in a River (Radio Ethiopia – 1976)
  14. Land (Horses – 1975)
  15. Gloria (Horses – 1975; Them cover)

Encores:

  1. People Have The Power (Dream of Life – 1988)
  2. My Generation
    (The Who cover)

Highlights for me are the energetic ‘Free Money’, My Blakean Year, the era defining ‘Gloria’ and ‘Pissing In a River’. Lowlight was a rather listless version of ‘I’m Free’ from Lenny.  

She commands centre stage for the entire concert, elegantly reciting or stomping with arms flailing – a mighty presence to behold.  For the quieter songs her voice is gravelly yet monolithic.  Luckily the sound at the RAH was relatively modest for a gig and she was never drowned out by guitars or drums.   The set made up mainly of 70’s based songs from her heydays.  Mind you there are many notable exceptions which I would have preferred to have been played rather than so many covers, but hey that’s just my opinion.  A couple of mentions and two songs written by her beloved husband Fred Sonic Smith and loving interaction with her children during them.

Gloria got everyone off their feet dancing and stomping to the pagan/shamanic beat, a great way to end the show.  The final encore was a manic version of The Who’s ‘My Generation’ – the only difference no one destroyed anything although Patti did intentionally break all her guitar strings.  Very Rock ‘n’ Roll for a 74 year old!

An excellent evening – thank you Patti and your band.

Marko – 6 October 2021
Ps – the merchandise was shocking – only one t-shirt at £40 and it really was a piss poor design!!