When Patti Smith first emerged on stage at The Beacon Theatre in New York City Tuesday night, she held up a vinyl copy of her 1975 debut album ’Horses’. It was a fitting gesture since ’Horses’ marked its 40th anniversary this year, and the music from that record was the focus of this show in the city where she and her band first started. Not surprisingly, the intensity and emotions conveyed by the music and lyrics of that album translated into an explosive experience in the live setting.
There’s no denying the importance of ’Horses’—a melding of poetry and punk – as its generally regarded as a classic (Rolling Stone ranked ’Horses’ at number 44 in its list of the ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’); former R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe had previously spoken about the album’s impact on him. One could see also the influence of ’Horses’ and Smith’s music just by observing the packed audience inside the sold-out venue: a cross section of folks who are about Smith’s age and younger people who were probably not even born when the record came out—yet all shared their fascination and love for the music.
Smith began the evening by reading a poem, “Compacted Awareness,” before launching into the fervent “Gloria,” the song that opens the record. From there on, the show followed the song order of ’Horses’, including the reggae-flavored “Redondo Beach,” the swirling tumult of “Birdland,” and the hard-charging, anthemic “Free Money.” Smith and her band’s performance of “Land” got even a good number of the folks up in the balcony both standing and jumping up and down. That set concluded with the solemn and haunting “Elegie,” in which Smith paid tribute to the departed by name, including her husband Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith and her friend Robert Mapplethorpe.
But the energy level from the ’Horses’ portion of the evening had not abated—it seemed like it had just gotten started. Smith and the band performed some notable songs from the singer’s repertoire, including “Privilege (Set Me Free),” from the Easter album; the driving “Beneath the Southern Cross”; “Because the Night,” perhaps her most recognizable song; and “Dancing Barefoot.”
While certainly the evening was a celebration of ’Horses’ and the past in general, the show was also a sobering reminder of the future and what needs to be done in the current state of our society, as indicated by the performance of the empowering anthem “People Have the Power” and the spirited, noisy encore of the Who’s “My Generation.” During the latter song, Smith gave an urgent and angry plea as she was basically saying that we have to change the world and we have to do it now.
With her ever-commanding presence and intensity, Smith has always mesmerized on the live stage, and the Beacon appearance was no different. At times, she was overcome with emotion, shaking and gesturing like an evangelist, especially during her performance of “Birdland.”Meanwhile, her band members – guitarist Lenny Kaye, bassist Tony Shanahan, drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, and multi-instrumentalist Jack Petruzzelli rose to their leader’s challenge; at one point, while Smith took a brief break, the other players performed a tribute to the Velvet Underground with a medley of “Rock and Roll,” “Waiting for the Man.” and “White Light, White Heat.” If anything could be taken away from the show is, just like Mapplethorpe’s classic black-and-white photo of Smith for the ’Horses’ cover, the music of the album itself remains timeless four decades later.
The surprise of the evening occurred even before Smith and her band hit the stage when Michael Stipe (who had guested with Smith on “People Have the Power”) himself served as the opening act, as his appearance wasn’t publicized. Joined by a small combo of musicians that included Smith’s daughter Jesse on keyboards, Stipe performed an all-covers set that began with a medley of Neil Young and the Velvet Underground’s “Old Man” and “Venus in Furs,” respectively. The singer also turned in a spirited cover of the Doors’ “People Are Strange,” followed by a moving interpretation of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” He closed out his set with Mott the Hoople’s unifying glam anthem “All the Young Dudes.” Stipe was still in good voice and his appearance at the Beacon makes one wish that he performs more regularly since R.E.M.’s breakup.
Patti Smith and Her Band
“Break It Up”
“Privilege (Set Me Free)”
“Rock and Roll/Waiting for the Man/White Light, White Heat”
“Beneath the Southern Cross”
“Because the Night”
“People Have the Power”
“Old Man/Venus in Furs”
“The Crying Game”
“People Are Strange”
“All The Young Dudes”