Patti Smith is a true icon. Since kick-starting her career in the 70’s as part of New York’s thriving art scene, she’s become a formidable force as a singer, songwriter, poet and activist. For her intimate show at The Roundhouse in Camden, she also proudly showed of one of her other achievements, motherhood, as it was a truly intimate family affair when she took to the stage for her night of the In The Round series.
Opening with ‘Ghost Dance’, Smith was immediately captivating. A commanding presence that exuded confidence, she repeated “we shall live again,” with grace. Followed by a rather touching moment as she proudly watched her son Jackson, a temporary member of the band, perform his first solo of the evening.
Of course, this was a night of Words and Music, so the audience was treated to a number of poems and prose throughout the evening. Smith started with a William Blake poem, joking that it would’ve been one by Robert Burns (she was performing on Burns Night) however she was not able to read the Scots language in which it was written. In addition to this, Smith read an excerpt of Virginia Woolf for her birthday, with her daughter Jesse on the piano.
Her most powerful reading, and perhaps the most rousing part of the evening, was a gripping poem about the environment in which Smith hollered while creating images of children fleeing dried up shorelines, surrounded by a crescendo of sound. Guitars, bass and rolling drums fell behind her, as she grasped into the air. It was the sheer power she exuded, without singing, that radiated the essence of punk rock.
Nevertheless, the career-spanning performance saw Smith perform a number of musical hits too, from the effervescent ‘Dancing Barefoot’ to a gorgeous rendition of ‘Beneath The Southern Cross’, in a whirlwind of mesmerising performance. Once it came time for her hit record ‘Because The Night’, she pulled out the punk spirit once more, demanding her audience rise from their seats, “next time no f*cking chairs” she quipped.
Wrapping up, Smith thanked the audience, her band, her children, and her former husband for the title of a song that could not be more apt for the time we are in, ‘People Have The Power’. The night proved, once again, that Patti Smith really is a unique talent, whose charisma, creativity and influence will forever be unmatched.
Photo Credit: John Williams