This Patti Smith article was written by Ian Bourne, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Jess Emery
“Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”. Patti Smith’s opening line from ‘Gloria’ is greeted with adulation and adoration by the Roundhouse crowd. The old venue is packed like a church at Christmas for this celebration of freedom and the finest New York rock. ‘Horses’ is 40 years old, and it is performed from start to finish, embellished and pumped up compared with the original recording. Starting with a recital of the poem ‘Compacted Awareness’ from the album sleeve, which she holds in her hand, Smith goes on to play the epic ‘Gloria’ – more than good enough for most bands’ encores.
Introducing the ska-tinged ‘Redondo Beach’, she quips, “We Smiths improve with age, this is for Morrissey”. This song is a light aside in an evening which is otherwise redolent with fervent passion from the High Priest of Rock and Freedom. As Smith strikes crucifixion poses and shakes her fists during ‘Birdland’, it becomes apparent that Smith has a wide range of voices – softly spoken, hard edged, beautifully resonant, angry shouting. ‘Free Money’ shows this range off perfectly and invokes a massive response from the enraptured audience as it moves into top gear.
“That was the A side of ‘Horses’ , so we have to take the record and turn it over, bring over the arm and put the needle into the groove to play the B side,” Smith says, holding up that iconic record sleeve again. Side B, track 1, ‘Kimberly’, about Smith’s little sister, opens with “The wall is high”. This surely influenced Blondie when they recorded ‘The Tide is High’, as it blends reggae and guitar rock. It also must have influenced The Modern Lovers and, when it rocks out, Ramones, whilst at the same time referring back to the Velvet Underground.
Patti Smith knew everyone that mattered in ‘70s New York, from bands like Television to Allen Ginsberg, the beat poet. “This song was written by Tom Verlaine and myself”, she says, explaining how ‘Break It Up’ came from a dream of JimMorrison trapped inside a statue, chained like Prometheus, fluttering like the soul or scream of a butterfly, and then breaking free “for his next adventure”. As she sings “I cried”, the guitar cries too, in a waltz of freedom.
Fingers twitching and hands fluttering, guitars swirling from the right speaker stack across the Roundhouse to the left speaker stack and back again, Smith and her band take off into ‘Land’. It has the power of a stampede of horses, giving the album its name. By the time it’s climaxed with the reprise of ‘Gloria’, hit a false ending and climaxed again, 12 minutes have come and gone, but it feels like far less for the chanting, clapping crowd.
The final original ‘Horses’ song in the set is the touching ‘Elegie’ , written with Smith’s late partner Allen Lanier from Blue Oyster Cult, in memory of Jimi Hendrix. It becomes another part of Patti Smith’s rock priest persona, turning into a memorial for the missing –Hendrix, Morrison, Janis Joplin, Joe Strummer, each of the four Ramones, Amy Winehouse, husband Fred “Sonic” Smith from MC5, Sid Vicious, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Ornette Coleman, Lou Reed.
‘Privilege (Set Me Free)’, from 1978’s ‘Easter’, is another priestly incantation of freedom, quoting “The Lord is my shepherd” and begging “come and love me, come on, set me free”. Patti Smith takes a break whilst her long-time guitarist Lenny Kaye introduces a medley of Velvet Underground songs by the band. She returns with prayer-like trance song ‘Beneath The Southern Cross’, from 1996’s ‘ Gone Again’, rousing her people with the cry, “We don’t wanna be owned, we are fucking free people”.
The crowd-pleaser ‘Because The Night’ gets everyone singing and ‘Dancing Barefoot’ gets everyone grooving. She ends the main set with ‘People Have The Power’, like a revolutionary sermon, telling her euphoric flock: “I believe everything we dream/Can come to pass through our union/We can turn the world around.”
The encore takes ‘My Generation’ by The Who to another level of feedback and chaos. And Smith again uses her high priest status with purpose, to remind everyone about what the freedom symbolised by the rock guitar means: “New generations, rise up, take the streets, make change, the world is yours, change it”.