In case you didn’t know this about me, Patti Smith is one of my absolute favorites. To say that she’s punk’s poet laureate is apt, but also insufficient, because it doesn’t address just how sweet and earnest and full of love she is. To my mind, she’s more like punk rock’s good fairy.
Which is to say: her show tonight at the Rams Head Live this evening was marvelous. She played some songs from Banga and some classics — “Dancing Barefoot” and “Because the Night” — and a few of my favorite songs, as well, including “Redondo Beach,” “Ghost Dance,” and “Pissing in a River.”
But what was really spectacular was the way she reinterprets her own work. She began with a version of “Redondo Beach” that sounded completely unlike any version I’ve ever heard before. And, after some hesitation, she launched into a gorgeous combination of “Land” and “Gloria.” If it were anyone else, this would be a called a medley, but in her hands, it’s something else — a reimagining perhaps. Not only were the two songs integrated into one another, but the spoken-word preamble to “Land” was adapted for a new context, a new moment in history. It was still full of defiance, but it was defiance of a different sort, against the failings of society and the cruelties we perpetrate against one another.
I definitely consider her one of the most wonderful artists working today — not just because of her beautiful music, but because she embodies such fierceness and such tenderness, such anger and such love, all at the same time. One minute she’s giggling and apologizing for messing up the lyrics to “April Fool” (“I just get a little over-excited”), and then next she’s belting out “People Have the Power,” her fist pumping. Such honesty and emotional openness are rare, I think — earnestness is the best word I can think of for it, really — and Patti Smith bears it gracefully.