review of 1/24/97 concert in melbourne, australia

[from "Patti Smith at the Palais, 24 January", by Richard Plunkett, The Age, January 28, 1997]


photo by mark wilson with caption reading "Explosive: Patti Smith's voice still has a confrontational edge"

She arrived to fears of another ageing legend on a cruise but, instead, reaffirmed everything she's achieved. Patti Smith performed what she calls "rock merged with the power of the word", exhorting the audience to be somebody, while the immensely experienced band kept it simple but compelling.

Not long out of a 16-year break from performing, Smith forged her reputation in New York as a poet and one of punk's originators. Her voice, an instrument of intense character, still has a confrontational punk edge. Nearly 50, thin with silver-tinged hair and the face of a bird of prey, Smith staged an amazing audience-winning coup and sparked mayhem.

Her crack band included Jay Dee Daugherty and Lenny Kaye from the Patti Smith Group of the 1970s, plus new guitarist Oliver Ray and bassist Tony Shanahan. Kaye sang a vexing version of "Love Of The Common People", dedicating this piece of pop fluff to Radio Birdman.

After a series of false starts, Smith discarded the reading of her bestknown poem, "Piss Factory". The songlist drew mostly from albums 20 years apart, 1975's Horses and last year's darker but equally experimental Gone Again. From the latter came Bob Dylan's "Wicked Messenger", the chilling "About a Boy", "Summer Cannibals" and the title track, where she drew on the grief of her recent widowhood; turning it into a primal lament.

Towards the climax, Smith prowled the stage with bare feet, spitting and snarling. She raised a storm with a howling harmonica solo during her version of "Not Fade Away". "I've come 6000 miles and you're just sitting there in luxury on your arses!" she shouted at the front rows. She leapt from the stage and ran around the theatre, lifting the audience out of the seats for the final explosive songs. "Rock 'n'Roll Nigger" caused a riot, the majority shouting along with "Outside of society/They're waitin for me!", then segueing into a blistering "Gloria", elemental and almost frightening. It doesn't get any better.

Copyright © Richard Plunkett 1997

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