3 reviews of 3/23/96 concert, wiltern theatre, los angeles

[from "Smith's Voice of '70s a Force for the '90s," by Robert Hilburn, Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1996]

Patti Smith walked on stage Saturday night at the Wiltern Theatre wearing a hooded warmup jacket that made her look like a monk returning from a lengthy retreat, which is not a bad way to think of her first formal U.S. tour in 17 years.

Smith, who turned away from rock stardom in 1979 to raise a family in Detroit with musician Fred "Sonic" Smith, is so respected by much of today's rock community that the atmosphere in the Wiltern bordered on spiritual reverence.

In the '70s, the singer-songwriter combined the power of poetry and the force of music to speak about self-affirmation and longing in such personal, confessional terms that she influenced virtually every artist of worth who has followed her.

Though it's hard to recapture that magic after all this time, Smith—even more than in a handful of acoustic club dates last fall—still delivers the goods. She was inspiring, whether reviving exquisite moments from her landmark albums or singing new songs of equal richness, including "About a Boy," the most illuminating of the many odes to the late Kurt Cobain.

Like few artists ever in rock, Smith can move in the blink of a chord change from music as deliciously energizing as the morning sun to music as remote as the night's coldest hour.

In some ways, the theme of the nearly two-hour concert was survival, a point underscored just before the encore with a blazing version of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away," which she augmented with her own poetry to create a magical expression of eternal optimism.

The theme is an especially emotional one for Smith, who has suffered through the deaths of several friends and relatives in recent years, including younger brother Todd, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, former band member Richard Sohl and, crucially, her husband.

Even the stylish five-piece band—which included '70s collaborators Lenny Kaye on guitar, Tom Verlaine on guitar and Jay Dee Daugherty on drums—had the feel of an extended family. The musicians, who also included bassist Tony Shanihan and guitarist Oliver Ray, seemed as intent on supporting Smith emotionally as musically. Smith's son, Jackson, added to the communal atmosphere by playing electric guitar on one song.

In the evening's most triumphant moments, Smith demonstrated she is a survivor herself. She isn't returning to rock as just a treasured voice from the '70s, but also as a valuable one for the '90s.

Copyright © Robert Hilburn 1996

[from "Patti Smith Justifies Icon Status," by Sheri Linden, Reuters News Service, March 24, 1996]

A decade-and-a-half absence from the concert stage has certainly heightened Patti Smith's status as art-rock icon, but the distance between myth and performer was easily bridged in a two-hour show at the Wiltern Saturday.

Beyond all her symbolic power, which is considerable, Smith showed her welcoming fans that she loves to perform, whether pounding out passionate renditions of her own classics or putting the crowd in stitches with between-songs patter.

Taking the stage alone, Smith began by reading one of her most powerful pieces, "Piss Factory," and she worked shorter poems throughout the evening. Gradually joined by her band, including original Patti Smith Group members Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty, Smith took her time getting to the rocking numbers the capacity crowd called out for.

It was a bit of a jolt to see her seated and strumming a guitar on a couple of numbers (she's learning to play, and Saturday marked the addition of a sixth chord to her repertoire), but if the evening lacked the manic energy and anarchic exultation of her late-'70s shows, there was no want of intensity—or of sheer fun.

Smith stood to the sidelines while Kaye and the band churned out Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water," returning to her mike only to deliver a blistering take on the refrain "A fire in the sky!" The much-maligned rock standard will never sound the same again.

The muscular band, which also included rhythm guitarist Tony Shanahan, bassist Ray Oliver and a low-key Tom Verlaine, seated stage-left and offering elegant, jazzy guitar solos, performed the hard-driving "Gone Again," which Smith intro'd as the last song of her late husband, Fred Sonic Smith. But the first number to draw stage-rushers down the aisle was "Dancing Barefoot" (Smith doffing shoes and socks); "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger" was the next. Newer numbers had a dark power: "Walkin' Blind," from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack, and the frenzied "About a Boy," inspired by Kurt Cobain.

The 15-year performance gap did leave her fans some catching-up to do; Smith herself poked fun at the rock-relic angle, pointing out how well-preserved her face is. The most striking change in Smith is that her voice has deepened, become more subtle and precise. Which is not to say she's mellowed, exactly: she put forth a deliriously scorching "Not Fade Away," with the band at full throttle.

Returning to the stage for the final encore, Smith imparted a message to an audience member that his wife had gone into labor. She welcomed his child into the world before launching into "Gloria." Birth and resurrection in one night: If that's not rock 'n' roll, what is?

Copyright © Sheri Linden 1996

[contributed by Dino Everett]

She opened reading "Piss Factory" and a couple others. It was all pretty dynamic. Then a guitar player came out (not Lenny) and played a couple songs with her.

The rest of the night featured her singing a song "About A Boy" which seemed to be a take on the "song about a girl" from Niravana....hers being about Cobain. "Rock N Roll Nigger" got the biggest response from the crowd. She brought her son Jackson out to play "Smoke On the Water," proving that he was not the guitar player his dad was. Lenny played a Waylon Jennings song while Patti jumped off the stage and watched from the first rows. She closed with "Not Fade Away" and encored with "Gloria" A highglight for me was she played "Wild Leaves"

At one point she sat down to play acoustic guitar and dropped her pick. Someone yelled out "It's O.K. Patti."

"O.K...What...Are you giving me permission to screw up?" She said. "Hell...That's three quarters of what I do."

At another point someone yelled out "I Love You Patti" then another...then another...and another...and another...

Patti replied with" Well...I guess my dance cards all full then.."

Copyright © Dino Everett 1996

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