PATTI SMITH : THE CHURCH OF St. GILES IN THE FIELDS, LONDON, JANUARY 27th 2011
By Richard The Goth.
There are numerous Patti Smiths: the serious literary figure who writes and speaks of how true art “sings of God” and “belongs ultimately to Him”; the evangelical missionary possessed by visions like some misplaced Joan Of Arc; the sentimentalist whose eyes brim with tears as she recalls departed friends, family, and loved ones; the quick wit who can puncture a moment of pomposity with a deft one-liner. All of them are in attendance tonight at this, Patti’s third appearance in recent years at the small but perfectly formed Church Of Saint Giles in the heart of London.
Still ostensibly pushing “Just Kids“, her entertaining memoir of life with shockmeister photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, this “Evening Of Words & Music” consists of readings interspersed with a nicely chosen selection from her astonishing musical back catalogue. Her scratch backing band tonight includes her daughter Jesse at the piano, and there are some nice little moments between them. At one point, Patti tells how her daughter hates it when she shows her up in public but “I’m her mom, so I’m gonna do it anyway“, before talking of the final poignant picture that Robert took of them; Jesse as a baby in her mother’s arms,seeming to wave and reach out to Mapplethorpe, who already knew he was dying when he shot the photograph. When Patti made her comeback shows in 1996, the deaths of Mapplethorpe, her husband Fred, her brother Todd, and her pianist Richard Sohl, were still very raw and at times she seemed almost overwhelmed with grief. Now, she seems to recall them with smiles and fondness, and the version of the memorial “Wild Leaves” that she and the band spectacularly f*ck up, is salvaged by a funny yet touching quip about how much Robert would’ve loved it because, even in the darkest moments of his illness, he would admonish her for her tearfulness, and he always “loved to laugh”. Still, she can go from a giggling mess to moments of pure poetic spine-chilling power in a heartbeat.
Along with the laughs, there are times in the performance where she reminds you exactly why she is still such an iconic visionary force in rock ‘n’ roll. A mesmerising take of “Ghost Dance” that truly summons the spirits of the ancestors, the uncompromising power of “Pissing In A River”, a fragile “Paths That Cross”, another song that looks to take the sting out of Death, and during “Dancing Barefoot” she finds one of those rare moments of improvisational genius and, perhaps inspired by her surroundings, starts riffing on “hail Mary, full of grace” and referencing the Annunciation. In the pantheon of rock, there’s pretty much only Patti who can get away with this kind of stuff, and she manages it through an intoxicating combination of humour, ego, sheer force of personality and her ultimate belief in the redemptive righteous power of music.
I never tire of seeing her perform, and on this freezing cold January night, in this haunting historic church, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to watch her making her eternal magic.
‘Dancing Barefoot‘ By Patti Smith