Patti Smith Live at the Soho House, London, 5 Nov 97

[Review from Uncut (UK) - Jan 98]

[Picture Credit: Patti at the Soho House: Bleddyn Butcher]

Bleddyn Butcher

"ARTISTS do not serve the media. The media does not serve artists. If artists or the media serve anyone, they serve the people".

Having invited journalists from all over Europe to a Soho watering hole for a spot of promotion, an acoustic performance and quote-worthy repartee, Patti Smith willingly embraces contradiction. It sure beats complacency.

Assisted by new sidekick Oliver Ray, she gives rough-and-ready readings of songs from her new album, peace and noise, and others as yet unrecorded. Between songs, she fields questions and casually undermines myth.

Asked about her links with Burroughs and Ginsberg, she plays the legend down: "I actually wasn’t a really big fan of the Beat writers, personally. I found out about William Burroughs because I thought I was buying an Edgar Rice Burroughs book with a really interesting cover on it!"

A voice from the back of the room asks whether Patti shares Ginsberg’s passing impression that counter-culture is no more. Without missing a beat (uh-huh), Patti deadpans: "He was talking about luncheonettes!" The old ones, they’re still the best.

Seconds later, she turns serious: "Right now, we really have a need to counteract again. The state of music really does suck right now. But it’s a great time. What is greater than a bad time? During a bad time, there’s plenty of room to make it great!"

Asked about the sleeve-notes to her new album, she explains that they commemorate Labour Day. "A beautiful concept. What unifies us as a people is our desire and our ability to work". Awards ceremonies are: "nice but not pivotal. Everyone likes to feel good about what they do". Eric Burdon and The Animals were inspirational because: "coming from a working-class family, it was really wonderful to hear somebody speak for us with such nobility and such dignity."

The songs she sings develop these sentiments. "Blue Poles" describes economic depression but, even in this ramshackle performance, speaks of undying hope. "1959" blows against the empire - "I hope it’s of some avail" - and, although unfinished, "Grateful" (like much of her best work) offers a glimpse of transcendence.

Alternately trenchant and scatty, Patti’s still evidently undead.

Copyright © IPC Magazines 1998

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