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As the Vietnam War came to an end in the late 1970s, the effects of a Communist victory created humanitarian crises throughout Indochina. By 1977, the exodus of Indochinese refugees fleeing Communist rule was quickly escalating, as thousands of people found themselves homeless. Then in February of 1979, China invaded North Vietnam, leading the Vietnamese government to rid the country of all ethnic Chinese, regardless of whether they were farmers, fisherman, capitalists, or communists. In the process, more than a million additional refugees found themselves displaced. Days after the invasion, as the Western world tried to garner recognition for the crisis, the Indochinese Refugee Concert was held at the Palladium in New York. The benefit concert featured Blue Oyster Cult, Todd Rundgren & Utopia, David Johansen of the New York Dolls, guitarist Rick Derringer and punk-poet upstart Patti Smith.
Of all the performances that night, Smith’s was most bizarre; she had begun the early show with an angry, confrontational a capella rendition of “Tomorrow,” from Annie, which led to a strange clarinet solo. Then, during the later show, Smith confronted the crowd, acknowledging the unfavorable reaction to her earlier set. Again, she began with “Tomorrow,” this time backed by the Patti Smith Group. The crowd’s reaction wasn’t nearly as disdainful, and as if to reward them for allowing her the indulgence, Smith dove into her radically reworked version of Van Morrison’s “Gloria,” with her classic opening line, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.”
Listen to Patti Smith take New York for a puzzling but rewarding ride during her performance at the Indochinese Refugee Concert at the Palladium in New York on this date in 1979.