the gunga din of rock magic

[from "Patti Comes Home a Hero," by Fred Schruers, Rolling Stone, July 13, 1978]

The Patti Smith Group
The Palladium
New York City
May 20th, 1978

Watching the crowd rise up out of its seats when Patti Smith walked onto the Palladium stage--her “Because the Night” headed for the Top Ten--you had to clench your fists for her: Patti Smith is the Gunga Din of a certain kind of rock magic, trumpeting so hard and bravely that even the false notes become poignant and powerful.

She was holding Babel, her new book of poems. “I haven’t fucked much with the past,” she recited, switching her weight from foot to foot, “but I’ve fucked plenty with the future.” Lenny Kaye and Ivan Kral, the guitarists who have served as visual and musical foils since 1971 when Patti was a murmuring, chanting priestess, shuffled blank-eyed and played the clipped chords that turn “Babelogue” into “Rock n Roll Nigger.” Throwing her book down, Smith then growled like a dirt bike: “Baby was a black sheep, baby was a whore...”

With her crooning, swooping vocal style as the focus, Patti and her band performed every song on their new album, Easter, as well as a stack of covers: “The Kids Are all right,” You Gotta Run,” Time Is on My Side, “Be My Baby,” “Gloria” and “My Generation.” And Smith’s presence was riveting throughout. She kicked her way through a repertoire that had her acting as almost everything from a dizzy, skipping schoolgirl to a hip-stockinged stripper. But after contributing floppy backup vocals while Lenny and Ivan covered the Who and Lennon, she let the audience know, on “25th Floor,” who really wears the tight pants in this band. It was the most compelling song in the set, with Kral and Kaye churning Patti’s unleashed guitar leads back into the beat as she spit the words out.

The evening was wholly charged with Smith’s will. She’s imperiously proud of her hit single, of finally being on top at age thirty-one; she preceded “Time Is on My Side” by shaking her fist during a babelogue that ended with “fuck the clock.” And her first encore, a cover of “You Light Up My Life,” was at least half-serious--she stopped to repeat “you give me hope.” The crowd was somehow relieved when she followed that with a gritty “Redondo Beach” and an incensed “My Generation,” ripping the strings off her Fender and holding the wailing guitar up to quiver and glitter. For nearly two hours Patti Smith had busted her butt and almost no one sat down. That’s about as much of a resurrection as rock can ask.

Copyright © Fred Schruers 1978

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