For The Living and the Dead

Patti Smith at Apostel-Paulus-Kirche, Berlin

By Sascha Krieger

Patti Smith, poet, singer, songwriter, artist, feminist and punk rock icon, is now 67 years old and at an age in which losses have become more and more frequent. Accordingly, her „evening of words and music“ at a Berlin church is a mixture of musical mass and remembrance service for all those friends and mentors that have passed on. Smith, long gray hair, covered with a black wool hat. opens the night with a text from William S. Burroughs who would have celebrated his hundredth birthday a few days ago, and a son by Neil Young, one of the dead and one of the living. Her few readings will be of Burroughs and from her own book „Just Kids“, chronicling her friendship with the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe whose cover picture of Smith’s first album established her as an icon and established an influential androgynous look that would challenge gender roles in the mid-1970s. Spontaneously, she adds a passage about two people who would feature in Lou Reed’s „Walk on the Wild Side“. She attempts (and fails twice) at covering Reed’s „How Do You Think It Feels“ from his „Berlin“ album, other dedications include Philip Seymour Hoffman and Christoph Schlingensief and Michael Stipe.

The living and the dead, the present and the past, the here (Berlin) and there (her native New York) all become one in an intense as well as loose, a thoughtful as well as joyous occasion that touches and entertains and goes straight to heart, ears and legs. A rock’n roll mass and a celebration of life. Accompanied by long-time bass player Tony Shanahan, her son Jackson Smith and a guest drummer, Smith delivers a loose and enthusiastic performance that pays tribute to the past through the presence of her music. The focus is strongly on her early period with „Horses“ featuring the character Johnny she borrowed from Burroughs, „Redondo Beach“, „Pissing in a River“ or the rare „Birdland“, intense, brooding songs, dense, energetic performances. The past is present as in the floating „Beneath the Southern Cross“ she dedicates to Hoffman but mostly she celebrates rock’n roll, particularly in the final series of her biggest hit „Because the Night“, the medley of „Horses“ and „Gloria“, the newer wild „Banga“ and her activism anthem „People Have the Power“. Unlike her last Berlin show, the political preaching is much subdued, this is a much more personal affair, an intimate gathering which sees Smith smiling, joking, laughing. In the end she recruits a guest guitarist from the audience. Music is sharing and there is much sharing going on on this memorable night in the church of poetry and rock’n roll.

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