CONTENT AND PHOTOS © DANIEL GLUSKOTER
To say that Patti Smith is still going strong a day after her 69th birthday would be an understatement similar to stating that Adele’s new album is likely to sell a lot of copies or that the newest Star Wars movie will probably attract a lot of attention at the box office. Ending 2015 with a trio of performances at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium, Smith’s New Years Eve concert before a festive capacity crowd of 1,200 was both a high-energy celebration and joyous retrospective of her four decades of artistry.
Closing the year with three shows at the same venue where she played three nights in early January 2015, “The Fillmore bookends ! We opened the year here and we’re going to finish the year here”, Smith is celebrating the 40th Anniversary of her epic break thru debut studio album “Horses” by playing it in it’s entirety.
Smith has continued to maintain an ambitious tour schedule in spite of not having released any new material since 2012’s “Banga”, appearing at close to 80 shows in 2015 along with a pair of high profile performances of her anthemic “People Have The Power” with U2 in Paris just weeks ago following November’s terrorist attacks. What else would you expect from an adult version of a once 25 year old woman from New York audacious enough to sing “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine” as the defiant very first line on her debut album ?
Any mild disappointment the crowd might have felt upon learning that fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Michael Stipe was not the opening act as he had been the previous two nights was quickly forgotten as the Lenny Kaye Band filled the void with a stellar 10 song set. Kaye, Smith’s longtime guitarist and sidekick for most of her career since Day One ( who also turned 69 three days earlier ) along with drummer Jay Lee Daugherty, was joined by Tony Shanahan on bass and keyboards and fellow guitarist Andy York.
The band opened with The Byrds “Eight Miles High” and featured such gems as Jesse Colin Young & The Youngbloods “Get Together”, The Monkees “Last Train to Clarksville” and Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour”. The vintage setlist also catered to the locality by including Eric Burdon & The Animals “San Franciscan Nights” along with Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit”, Smith surprising the crowd by making make her first appearance of the evening to deliver impassioned vocals on the latter as she reprised her rendition from “Twelve”, her 2007 covers project.
Taking the stage moments after 10:30 p.m., Smith, whose diversity ranges from being the godmother of the punk movement to poet, photographer and best-selling author, was animated and personal throughout. Among her musings: “Do you remember when Chris Farley interviewed Paul McCartney ? That was awesome man !”, to expressing bewilderment over Texas’ new open carry gun law. “Now that’s the type of tourism I’m talking about”. She even physically demonstrated how to flip over a record and replace the needle on the vinyl after “Free Money” signaled the conclusion of what was originally the end of Side 1 following the hyperkinetic fury of “Gloria” that opened the set.
Ultimately stretching the live presentation of “Horses” from it’s originally recorded 43 minutes to well over an hour, Side 2 featured an introduction to “Break It Up” with a dedication to Jim Morrison noting how she was inspired to write the lyrics following a visit to his grave in Paris. The nostalgia and sentimentality continued thru the set concluding “Elegie”, a tribute to Jimi Hendrix, during which Smith mentioned the names of both pop icons and personal acquaintances that have been lost over the past 40 years. Starting with both Morrison and Hendrix, she also gave shout outs to Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain, Robert Mapplethorpe, husband and former bandmate Fred “Sonic” Smith, Jerry Garcia, John Lennon and Lou Reed, among others.
Taking a quick bow after completing the suite, Smith and her always tightly knit band performed “Privilege (Set Me Free)”, “Pissing in a River” and “Dancing Barefoot” as the clock drew closer to midnight. The obligatory countdown followed by the blaring of party horns and balloons falling from the rafters signaled that the year of Trump and Black Lives Matter was over and that it was now time to get serious about deciding whether to continue the progress of the Obama years or to elect a leader that would make George W. Bush look like Einstein by comparison.
A rousing “Because the Night”, co-written with Bruce Springsteen, was an uplifting selection as the first song these ears would enjoy to start 2016. The aforementioned “People Have The Power” with it’s refrain “The power to dream / to rule, to wrestle the world from fools, it’s decreed the people rule” led to Smith’s exclaiming “I believe everything we dream can come to pass through our union / we can turn the world around / we have the power. People have the power …” Written in 1988 truer words have never been spoken.
Returning to the stage for a final encore at 12:30 a.m. with an explosive version of The Who’s “My Generation”, another song that Smith first starting performing 40 years ago, the Poet Princess left it all on the stage, as always, breaking at least four guitar strings in the process.
As the New Years Eve crowd, bursting at the seams with energy all night long braced for a chilly departure, one could only hope that this trailblazing pioneer continues to have a Gung Ho Dream of Life that brings her as many thrills and as much enjoyment as she’s brought her fans over the past four decades. Maybe, if we all play nice, we’ll even get some new material in the coming year.