CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - by Fred D'Ambrosi
Patti Smith performed her debut album "Horses" in Cleveland Sunday night for the first time in more than 40 years, and it was worth the wait. This wasn't some Beach Boys reunion tour. The only golden oldies were the packed State Theatre crowd (Best guess, average age: 57.5 years). The Rock Hall inductee's music and poetry remain relevant in the new century. She updated and reframed songs to keep them that way.
The night started with the legendary statement, "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine," the opening lyric of "Gloria," and ended with an updated version of The Who's "My Generation," a political statement and ripped out guitar strings. A lot happened in between.
Smith and the band, which included her son, Jackson, and two original band members (guitarist Lenny Kaye and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty), was tight, and Smith's voice was as powerful and varied as on the original recordings. Perhaps her years off-the-road writing and raising a family in the Detroit area kept her voice rested and ready. Or she's been taking lessons on being a 70-year-old rocker from Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.
It was refreshing to be at a rock concert that relied on words, music and the artist's passionate energy, not costumes and staging. What passed for special effects was a slide projector showing the original "Horses" cover behind the band with its iconic Robert Mapplethorpe photograph of a young, androgynous Smith. When they finished that segment of the concert, the curtain closed over screen. Oh, and there were a couple of strobes that lit up the audience when their participation was required. Not exactly a U2 production, but that's not what her life and her music are about.
Smith told stories and encouraged crowd participation. She got annoyed when she thought someone threw a Jerry Seinfeld t-shirt on stage. "That's my dream, that someone would throw me a %&*#ing Seinfeld t-shirt." Oops.Turns out it was a Grateful Dead Jerry Garcia tee. That turned into a heartfelt apology and good story about meeting Garcia when she was backing him up at a concert, and Garcia ordering some Hell's Angels to find her a trailer.
If you saw a skinny, grey-haired woman this weekend at the Cleveland Museum of Art viewing Albrecht Dürer 's Four Horsemen (from the Apocalypse) or the downtown Heinen's, and you didn't realize it was Smith, you missed your chance to rub elbows with rock stardom. She told the crowd loved visiting the museum, and at "Hyman's," she picked up blueberries, a turmeric drink, and, she sheepishly admitted, "an organic candy bar. Maybe it grew out of the ground."
Before her moving rendition of "Break It Up," she told the story of a dream she had about The Door's Jim Morrison after visiting his grave in Paris. Morrison's tomb had no marker, so fans wrote lyrics in chalk on nearby headstones. That led to her dream of Morrison coming out of statue, with her urging him to "break it up."
For an updated "Elegie," originally written as a tribute to Jimi Hendrix, Smith added the names of other lost artists: Prince, Bowie, Strummer, The Ramones, her late husband Fred "Sonic" Smith. She encouraged crowd members to shout out names of people they lost.
That ended the "Horses" portion of the show, but not the updating. "Citizen Ship" was originally a metaphor for teen alienation, but sounded like it had been written yesterday as a protest of President Trump's immigration policies, and she sang it that way:
"I was caught like a moth with its wings outta sync.
Cut the chord. Overboard. Just a refugee.
Lady liberty, lend a hand to me, I've been cast adrift.
Adrift. Adrift. Adrift. Adrift. Adrift. Adrift."
The show ended with a new-and-improved "My Generation." Smith doesn't hope to "die before I get old", she hopes to "live to be old." It was the only time she picked up a guitar, to pound the strings and push it into an amp to create a wall of feedback. She said her generation worked for peace and love, only to bring the country Trump. She declared rock and a guitar her generation's best weapon, better than nukes, then she ripped out some strings and called it night. Patti Smith isn't just in the Rock Hall. She is Rock.
(Note: Patti Smith's 2017 tour only included four U.S. concerts. After Cleveland she plays Pittsburgh and L.A., then it's off to Australia.)