patti smith wednesday last

Patti Smith @ Sydney OperaHouse Concert Hall (15/10/08)

I lost my notes…. so I’m paying homage to both Patti Smith and elmokeep who wrote just like I would have only better.

First of all, I give this 89 million out of ten. To wit: it is not a review. NO, no no no no. This is one of those exact times when the adage we all hope to avoid is glaringly obvious: trying to get this evening in to words is exactly as useful as, yes, dancing about architecture. I could employ the liberal use of overdone adjectives (“Incandescent!” “Transcendental!” “Epochal!” “Fucking amazing!”), and none of them would do anything except stand around pointing at their own uselessness.

This is Patti Smith! How do I sum up the true, exact Patti Smith-ness of this experience? I cannot. So this is a testimonial. Read this in order to avoid disappointment in the future. If Patti Smith ever deigns to visit here again, you must go. You must kill people for a ticket, if need be. You must lie, beg, borrow and steal.

Or pre-order. Whatever.

There is love, there is adoration, then there is reverence, and that is what greets Patti Smith in a great wave rising from the Opera House audience as she strides magnificently on to the stage, dressed as so often in her jeans, t-shirt and suit jacket. She waves back, smiling broadly, turns around and waves to those behind her, “Hello! How lovely to be here!” Lenny Kaye is skinny as hell, and tall. Patti’s son, Jackson Smith is exactly as preternaturally gifted a guitarist as you would expect the son of Patti and Fred Sonic Smith to be. There is much switching of instruments among the band throughout the night; bass for piano, and drums for bass and guitar for piano and piano for guitar.

“I always wanted to be an opera singer, when I was a little girl,” much laughter. “And now here I am – playing the Sydney Opera House!” Cheering engulfs the place, hard to imagine an orchestra ever playing in here after tonight. Patti Smith tells great stories, about seeing Tom Verlaine play guitar at CBGSs every Sunday night. “He was really cute,” before taking us all through a crushing version of We Three. And you imagine New York in the – œ70s, and Patti Smith hanging out at CBCGs, and Robert Mapplethorpe and Bob Dylan, and it’s hard not to think of Michael Stipe hearing Horses for the first time age 15 and right then dreaming up R.E.M., and everyone else inspired by the woman, who at 61 and fighting a bad cold is still here, tearing up the place.

People Have the Power, and many mentions of Obama, and much cheering at this. There’s a lot of old people here, reliving their youth, and it’s a great thing to see them so energised by this music that still means so much to them. Everyone is yelling for Gloria all night, and it’s wonderful when the band finally comes to bashing it out (“Jesus died for somebody sins, but not mine!”). Patti Smith starts walking, very slow and purposefully through the crowd, shaking hands, stopping to dance. You can almost see the electricity crackling in her wake. She wants to see the band from where we do, so she’s down in the front rows, walking right up to the back, stopping and dancing in the aisles, with those around her, none of whom can quite believe what they’re doing.

Rock and Roll Nigger, Dancing Barefoot and Because The Night all get huge rapturous responses. The latter, penned with Bruce Springsteen, is especially rousing and loudly sung along to. Patti Smith throws off her jacket side of stage to rock out. One minute she’s giving it all, howling into the mic doubled over, the next she is statue still, dedicating a heart breaking version of Neil Young’s Helpless to Fred Sonic Smith and ruining several people (including me) for days in the process. From her wonderful covers album, Twelve, Patti Smith recruits support act, The Drones, for a two band interpretation of Smells Like Teen Spirit that Nirvana only wished ever sounded that good. The Drones look a little like they might lose their minds any moment, but are wonderful.

“The world is on the verge of some tough times financially at the moment. But we will survive. We’ll survive because we’re alive. And that’s ninety-eight percent of the battle,” Patti Smith says. You can only agree, seeing her and knowing how much she’s suffered in loss in her life, and how this working is what keeps her sane, it’s how she survives. And when she stands with her fists aloft, triumphant, “I finally played the Opera House!” you can hardly hear her over the roar of the crowd. No one wants her to leave. No one wants this to end. It’s been one of those once-off type things: a hero has walked (and danced) among us.

And where a million bands have come and gone trying and failing to connect with their audience, Patti Smith just did it like she has been doing for over four decades. She will continue to do so until she just can’t any longer – and I can only hope that means that she’ll be back.

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