Review: ‘Patti Smith’

When she first emerged from Gotham's nascent punk scene three decades ago, Smith was defiantly acerbic and unabashedly intellectual, stoked by the spirit of the Beats and a passion for the rock 'n' roll myth. In recent years, she's shifted gears, replacing the thorny sexuality with a sort of earth-mother sweetness and pleas for peace and unity.

When she first emerged from Gotham’s nascent punk scene three decades ago, Patti Smith was defiantly acerbic and unabashedly intellectual, stoked by the spirit of the Beats and a passion for the rock ‘n’ roll myth. In recent years, she’s shifted gears somewhat, replacing the thorny sexuality with a sort of earth-mother sweetness, the envelope-pushing lyrical forays with pleas for peace and unity.

The “new” Patti has never gotten her message across more triumphantly than on the just released Sony album “Trampin’,” which provided the lion’s share of the material for this performance, the closest thing to an old-fashioned hootenanny that Brooklyn’s seen in some time.

Opening with the title track of her new disc — a traditional spiritual that she left pretty much in its field-recording purity — Smith concentrated on her most uplifting material. The new “Peaceable Kingdom,” with its stripped-down sing-along structure, offered plenty of room for audience participation — something Smith has always encouraged — while a wispy “Dream of Life” brought out the singer’s shaman-esque side.

While not as wildly improvisatory as some sets from Smith’s initial appearance on the scene, perf did allow for plenty of stretching out, particularly on the part of longtime sidekick Lenny Kaye, whose stinging solos imbued “Free Money” with a sense of anarchic glee. Equally wide-open, if slightly mellower in tone, “Gandhi” was a vocal showcase for Smith, who sang with surprising control.

Pretense — often close at hand in Smith’s realm — was kept to a minimum. The new “My Blakean Year” started slowly, with the singer accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, and never quite gelled. A set-closing “25th Floor,” however, balanced the scales in terms of both volume and directness.

In the 25 years since Smith released her cover of the Who’s “My Generation,” the “hope I die before I get old” sentiment has fueled many a punchline. But as long as she continues to perform with this sort of preternatural guilelessness, Smith will be forever young.

Patti Smith

Warsaw, Brooklyn; 800 capacity; $15

Production

Presented by S.W. Prods. Opened and reviewed May 1, 2004. Closed May 4, 2004.

Cast

Band: Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, Tony Shanahan, Oliver Ray, Jay Dee Daugherty.
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