Monday, March 11, 2013
This past Saturday night, Patti Smith graced the stage of Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto for a spectacular show, the final event in what had been a whirlwind few days for the so-called 'Godmother of Punk'. It started with two extremely sold out shows billed as An Evening of Words and Song with Patti Smith at the Art Gallery Of Ontario (AGO) this past Thursday. The performance was in conjunction with an exhibition of her black-and-white Polaroid photography entitled Patti Smith: Camera Solo. She apparently also signed copies of her 2010 memoir "Just Kids" at the AGO's gift shop at noon for a few hours, prior to her AGO performance, and then on Friday night attended a sold-out screening of the documentary Patti Smith: Dream of Life at Jackman Hall at the AGO. If punk in the mid-70's was her rise to fame, in the decades that followed she became a true renaissance woman, furthering her artistry in not just music, but poetry, writing, and photography. Frankly, I originally wasn't planning to go to any of these events since I wasn't that acquainted with her music but when Collective Concerts, at the last minute, released a handful of tickets for her show at Queen Elizabeth Centre, I decided that as a music fan owed it to myself to check out a musical icon.
The date of the show, March 9, was a meaningful one as it being the date that her friend photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (whose photos of her became the covers for the Patti Smith Group LP) passed away in 1989, and so the show was in tribute to him. Originally this show wasn't even on her schedule, as Patti herself mentioned during the show, but then she decided that rather than go back to New York to play the tribute show, why not just stay in Toronto for it. Of course the audience responded gleefully to this. March 9 was also an important date for Patti as she mentioned it was also the day she met the true love of her live, Fred 'Sonic' Smith (ex-MC5) with whom she had two children, her son Jackson and daughter Jesse, who she performed with this night on guitar and piano respectively. Joined by Tony Shanahan on bass guitar and backup vocals, Patti and her three band mates performed an almost two-hour set of Patti Smith favourites and later songs, including a bunch from her 2012 release entitled Banga. Interspersed throughout the night, Patti graciously offered us some beautiful poetic readings which never felt out of place.
What probably isn't apparent, if you've read this far, was how damn charming and full of humour Patti was. Her love for Fred was on full display as she revealed that she wrote many songs about him. She told us the back story of how she finished writing the lyrics for the verses to her biggest hit "Because The Night", a song for which had been co-written by Bruce Springsteen - the back story involving Patti waiting for a 7:30 phone call from Fred which didn't happen so she decided to listen to the tape that Jimmy Iovine had been bugging her to listen to and see what she could do to complete it. She bantered with the audience on occasion like when she told the audience that she wrote several songs using the D chord, to which an audience member yelled out 'We like D' and to which Patti responded in return, well then we were about to get 6 1/2 minutes of it. Earlier in the night, an audience member giddily yelled out that she wanted to stand up, I guess hoping that would prompt the audience or something [it didn't] and when Patti responded for her to get up herself, the audience member and a friend took a spot near the stage, to which Patti jokingly told them that were standing in the $500 spot.
Musically, it was such a tight performance and combined with the clarity of whomever was working the soundboard that night, it was one of the more satisfying auditory experiences I've had the pleasure of hearing. Her son Jackson was very fluid with his guitar lines while her daughter Jesse exemplified a very solid, melodic performance on piano. Bassist Tony Shanahan was pretty much Patti's right hand man, holding down the low-end with his solid bass guitar work and providing enthusiastic background vocals. Patti showed her versatility showing a vulnerability like on her cover of Neil Young's "It's A Dream" during the encore, and previously during the main set exuding a world-weary snarl on "My Blakean Year". Patti had read poetic passages sporadically throughout the night, one of them being in memory of her friend Robert, which then segued appropriately into her heart-aching song tribute to the late Amy Winehouse entitled "This Is The Girl". When the encore ended with her call-to-arms-of-sorts "People Have The Power" with Patti chanting all the powers that we do have, it felt at that moment that anything was possible. This point in her life, as she at once looks back at her career and moves forward with new artistic endeavours, and to see her perform with both her son and daughter on stage, is undeniably a beautiful thing to see. That some of us were fortunate to witness this, we can hold dear.