The 30th-anniversary reissue of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” generated a huge amount of press, but another groundbreaking disc released the same year has finally gotten its due as well. Patti Smith’s “Horses” — which became the first major-label punk-rock album when Arista unleashed it in 1975 — not only helped spread the gospel of Bowery art-punk around the world, it set the tone for smart, unbending female rockers of generations to come.
With an expanded edition of the disc — outfitted with a London performance of its songs — in stores this month, Smith decided to stage a homecoming of sorts by revisiting “Horses” in concert at this grand Brooklyn venue. Sentimentalism, however, was only one note in the emotional symphony during a perf by Smith and her bandmates that retained “Horses’ ” original running order, but — fittingly, given the original’s open-ended nature — only portions of its original sound.
Opener “Gloria (in Excelsis)” found the band — original group members Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty augmented by pianist Tony Shanahan as well as guests Tom Verlaine and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers — ready to rumble as well as ruminate.
Choppy power chords and existential forays (most of the latter keyed by Kaye) rubbed together sensually during that tune as well as dreamily extended takes on the reggae-tinged “Redondo Beach” and “Kimberly.”
The opening set — the band would follow “Horses” with a seven-song block of later material — was highlighted, however, by the unfettered experimentalism of “Birdland” and “Land,” both of which took hairpin turns that seemed to surprise even the musicians themselves. The former tune, one of Smith’s most ritualistic, began with her reading the lyrics sans accompaniment, but — as the tale grew more desperate — built into a freewheeling jazz-rock juggernaut worthy of Miles Davis.
“Land,” on the other hand, was all brute force, its “Clockwork Orange”-styled dreamscapes pouring forth at warp speed, their Day-Glo colors heightened by Verlaine’s electronic manipulations.
Hair obscuring her face, Smith whirled about the stage chanting the song’s tribal hooks, extrapolating into long dissertations about the Bush administration and a coming sea change — then, just as quickly, swapped one ritual for another by segueing into the hymn “Elegie,” which saw Flea swap his bass for trumpet.
Flea would prove to be the evening’s most pleasant surprise, spending most of his time unspooling understated bass lines, and finding the pocket in the band’s gnarled improvisations without hesitation. He also upped the ante powerwise in second-set highlights like “Rock and Roll Nigger” and “People Have the Power” — both of which Smith laced with heated commentary befitting the set’s subtitle “Seven Songs for Our Time.”
That title aside, the program proved that Smith’s songs defy categorizations of time and place to an extent few of her peers — or even her idols — can claim.