Monday, September 9th, 2013
Patti Smith and Her Band at Massey Hall in Toronto
Frank YangIn normal circumstances, seeing an artist live twice in a six-month span will yield pretty similar shows. Sure, set lists can change to some degree, but to be able to completely change the context and experience in such short order is a rare thing – but then Patti Smith is a rare artist. Her show at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in March – her first proper Toronto show in 13 years – was presented as “An evening of words and music, in memory of Robert Mapplethorpe” and while the song selection covered all the bases one could hope for, with Smith backed by her children on guitar and piano and songs interspersed with readings and anecdotes, it felt intimate and informal though no less powerful for it. Friday night’s show at Massey Hall, by comparison, was billed as “Patti Smith and Her Band” and while for other artists, the crediting of a full band might seem an unnecessary and presumptive detail, for Smith it made a world of difference; it meant that she’d be performing with drummer Jay Dee Daugherty and guitarist Lenny Kaye, and it meant that she was going to rock.
If you assumed the assemblage of the bandmates who’d been with her since her landmark debut album Horses almost 40 years ago – bassist Tony Shanahan, who’d also been along in March, and guitarist Jack Petruzzelli rounded out the ensemble – meant that there’d be more vintage material on offer, then you’d have been correct. Though the kick drum said “Banga” and the show could have been considered the Toronto stop of the tour for Smith’s last album, the set list tilted very heavily towards Smith’s ’70s output. They opened the show with “Dancing Barefoot” and “Redondo Beach”, and and though their collective influence on punk and garage rock can’t be overstated, Smith’s band performed with plenty of polish and refinement; even restraint. But it was pretty punk when towards the end of a sprawling “Birdland” – and not for the last time – Smith turned and spit onstage; not sure how many times that’s happened at Massey Hall.
But it should not have been taken as any mark of disrespect for the hallowed venue. Indeed, Smith was most excited to be playing the room again for the first time in 37 years, mentioning how excited she was in 1976 to be playing on the same stage that Maria Callas had once sang on. Hers was one of many ghosts evoked throughout the show, alongside Jim Morrison (“Break It Up”), Amy Winehouse (“This Is The Girl”), John Lennon (an unplanned cover of “Beautiful Boy”), and Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith (“Because The Night”). Still, unlike the Queen Elizabeth show, the theme of the show would be rebellion rather than remembrances, the tone more electrifying than elegiac.
Though the front half of the show had many highlights – an impromptu ode to Nicole Kidman as a nod to the TIFF festivities going on around the city prefaced “My Blakean Year” – it was after Smith left the band in Kaye’s hands for a medley saluting Toronto’s garage rock roots to dance in the audience that things really kicked into high gear. A smouldering “Ain’t It Strange” lit the match, a Television/CBGBs-saluting “We Three” fanned the flames, and “Because The Night”, “Pissing In A River”, and raging “Horses”/”Gloria” absolutely blew the place up, punctuated by Smith’s declaration, “This is not a movie – this is real life!”. The encore kept the intensity up, with Smith passing guitar duties on “Banga” to an audience member (he was basically tasked with playing a D chord ad infinitum) but taking possession of a Strat at the tail end of a searing, show-closing “Rock’n'Roll Nigger” for the express purpose of feeding back and then tearing off every one of the strings. A majestic finish to the show and to a year where Smith more than made up for years of 416 neglect.
Photos: Patti Smith @ Massey Hall – September 6, 2013
MP3: Patti Smith – “Wing”
Video: Patti Smith – “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Video: Patti Smith – “People Have The Power”
Video: Patti Smith – “Summer Cannibals”
Video: Patti Smith – “Rock’N'Roll Nigger”
With The Electric Lady finally out tomorrow, Pitchfork, Stereogum, and Spin all have feature pieces on the inimitable Janelle Monáe. Advance streams of the album have been pretty tightly geoblocked, but Canadians can hear it via Exclaim; Americans can try VH1. She plays The Kool Haus on October 19.
Stream: Blouse / Imperium
Stream: Sebadoh / Defend Yourself
The New York Times has a feature on Okkervil River while Interview sends frontman Will Sheff to talk to their album cover artist William Schaff and co.create finds out about the thinking behind the marketing campaign for the album. Okkervil River plays The Phoenix on September 28.
Video: TV On The Radio – “Mercy”