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

[from "Patti Smith, Palais, Friday night", by Nui Te Koha, Herald Sun, 27 January 1997]


IF THE happy converts in the capacity-filled theatre had any doubts about what had just experienced, Smith had no trouble telling them.

"You came, you saw," Smith said in the closing moments of her phenomenal two-hour show at the Palais Theatre, "an energetic, crazy, flawed individual who cares about your children."

If the children means the future, then, yeah, Patti cares. She performed with such intensity, such raw energy, the thought that tomorrow's leaders may only be Alanis or Courtney no longer applies. Patti Smith will there too, and she will continue to stand far apart from the wanna-bes.

Smith, 50, is an enduring and influential figure in rock 'n' roll culture. She has lived, but, admirably, Smith took the compelling sights and sounds of her astonishing career to apply it to the here-and-now, and not wallow in the past. Her primal, full tilt version of "Rock N Roll Nigger" which segued into an even more powerful "Gloria," will testify to that.

And, as expected, there was provision to celebrate the memory of important figures in her life -- her husband musician Fred "Sonic" Smith ("don't forget him," she yelled), and lifelong friend and photographic artist, Robert Mapplethorpe.

"He was a great artist, a great man, a fun, strong human being," Smith said of Mapplethorpe, leading slowly into the wistful, sombre "Wild Leaves".

"About A Boy," loosely translated as a tribute to the late Kurt Cobain, was delivered an almost spiritual, ceremonial rock eulogy, which built into a collision of squalling guitars and tribal beats.

Sound problems at the start of the show -- the gnarly rhythm of the poem "Piss Factory" sabotaged by a dodgy mike -- only emphasised her unpretentious approach. She stood back, waited for a new microphone, and started again, to a mighty Palais Theatre roar.

She painted fearless word pictures of a revolution ("People Have The Power") and thought-provoking imagery of our local natural wonder. Uluru, Smith contended in one spoken-word piece, is a drop of God's blood that fell from the sky. "It was blood in the sun/And for centuries/It was respected and adored."

Of course, the "hits", the groove-a-licious "Dancing Barefoot" and poppy "Because The Night" caused the expected commotion, but really it was all part of a magical night that will live on and on.

"I don't live for the moment, I live for life," Patti Smith has said. "If anything, the loss of my loved ones makes me want to live even longer."

The future, it seems, is in safe hands. Rock on.

Copyright © Nui Te Koha 1997

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