Patti onstage at the Michigan Theater, with son Jackson in background on bass.
(MT photo: Doug Coombe)
Patti Smith show at Ann Arbor's Michigan Theater last Thursday night was pretty impressive. She's been on a roll the last few times I've seen her. The only review I've read of the show thus far accused her of "lacking conviction," but I'm not sure what the dude was expecting. Granted, she's not the twirl-winding, spit-firing wild-cat punk-rock fox she was in her early days. But she hasn't been that since she fell off stage and broke her neck in the late '70s. With time (and a retirement) she reinvented herself, as well as anyone ever has, becoming a hippie-ish, rock 'n' roll, punk-culture, beat-poet matriarch for every generation of rock 'n' roll, and, at 60, she wears the persona very well. Besides, any show that kicks off with "Kimberly" and "Redondo Beach" (she suddenly realized during the first tune that it was the birthday of her sister, "the little girl I wrote that song for," triggering a memory later in the show that it was also the anniversary of William Burroughs' death); include a powerhouse version of "Because the Night," plenty of chestnuts from her often wonderful new covers album, a free-form jam or two that were like hallucinogenic without the drugs, concluding it all with her two most powerful anthems is a night well spent in my book. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" seemed to accentuate the similarities Cobain borrowed from her own classic "Dancin' Barefoot." A garage-y "Gimme Shelter" actually sounded poignant. And "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," which always seemed a pop trifle to my ears, becomes a profound statement on the modern political landscape in her hands, not to mention a terrific pop-rock gem. Local musos Marcie Bolen, Caroline Striho and Greg McIntosh from the Great Lakes Myth Society (whose opening set I unfortunately missed but whose music I've been told is great) all made guest guitar appearances onstage. One of the most touching moments of the entire night came, though, when Lenny Kaye and Tony Shanahan led the band (which included son Jackson on bass) in a seemingly spontaneous run-through of the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop," as Patti pogoed through the audience, up and down the aisle, full of joy and glee. In an era when the powers that be would much prefer people be full of fear and dread, that alone is a nice statement. The triple wham-bam punch of the closing "Gloria" and the "People Got the Power"/"Rock 'N' Roll Nigger" encore were like a call to arms; a challenge. I just wish I could make it to one show where she did "Free Money" again. But no real complaints here. Patti Smith remains a national treasure.