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Patti Smith - The Salt Shed, Chicago, 29/12/2023

  by Lisa Torem

published: 8 / 3 / 2024

Patti Smith - The Salt Shed, Chicago, 29/12/2023

The mid-1970s debut ‘Horses’ promoted Patti Smith as punk royalty, but her concert at the newly-minted Salt Shed drove the point home. Smith’s hair may be silvery, but her contralto still conveys the piss and vinegar of early years. We were lucky she was even here. Earlier in the month, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was hospitalized in Italy with a sudden illness and had to cancel two dates. Her 77th birthday comes around on New Year’s Eve, and her long-standing, touring guitarist Lenny Kaye reached that same milestone on this night, but both professionals proved that age is simply a silly number The venue’s first tier was crammed with standing-room-only fans and the upper level held only a few empty seats. Born in Chicago, at the now defunct Grant Hospital, Smith referenced her native roots frequently during her performance, eliciting bursts of cheers. The celebratory setlist was bittersweet. Several songs honoured recently departed musicians: Sinead O’Connor, The Pogues front man Shane MacGowan and Television’s Tom Verlaine. While the covers were spot-on, fans got a massive helping of the Patti Smith Group’s legacy, featuring selects from, not only the afore-mentioned ‘Horses,’ but ‘Easter’ (1978), ‘Wave’ (1979), ‘Dream of Life’ (1988), ‘Gone Again’ (1986) and ‘Banga’ (2012). But the clang-y Byrds’ classic, ‘So You Want To Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ was a perfect opener, beset by power chords, a delirium of electric sonics and brawny drum fills. “This is a little song Lenny and I wrote in 1978,” Smith said, prefacing ‘Ghost Dance.’ The ethereal chant, echoed by a visual of a hand drum on the giant screen, brought on a deeper sensibility. Dee Jay Daugherty switched to mallets and Tony Shanahan contributed light piano. In contrast, ‘Free Money’ showcased the singer’s tumultuous spoken word. Throughout the evening, there was constant teamwork, with Shanahan doubling on keys and bass, while Smith’s talented guitarist son, Jackson Smith, handled most leads. His mastery of the high tones on the fretboard was especially impressive. Daugherty, sporting his signature pork-pie hat, is a multiple Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee. He joined the band back in the 1970s. And journalist/producer/guitarist Lenny Kaye projected an all-around coolness, switching easily between acoustic strums and electric riffs. Smith’s uninhibited gestures, rough-hewn vocals and wildly poetic narratives have been her stock and trade for decades, and she did not disappoint. She transitioned easily from existential philosopher to rebellious upstart without a hitch. Television cover, ‘Guiding Light’ found Shanahan playing a keyboard melody line that was refreshingly counter to the main melody. Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’ was sobering, and with Smith’s skillful articulation, the lyrics enjoyed full shrift. With her knees shaking, she crouched low, whispering intense statements at one point, leaving the fans spellbound. Charlotte Day Wilson’s ‘Work’ was downright reflective. All in all, this was one stellar and diverse set list, but there was also room for the radio hits. ‘Because the Night,’ the punk godmother’s 1978 brain child with Bruce Springsteen, yielded pure pop pleasure. The onscreen visual of Fred “Sonic” Smith, Smith’s late husband and collaborator, fueled the emotion. Smith’s pro-activism is another known quantity. She prefaced ‘Peaceable Kingdom/People Have the Power’ with idealistic statements that brought out sympathetic cheers. Alternatively, ‘Beneath the Southern Cross,’ yielded a wide-eyed appeal to explore our seemingly insignificant role in the vast universe. “This is a song of life, a song of remembrance,” Smith shared. “A song that Lenny and I wrote.” The two artists faced off, strumming vehemently. Here, Smith’s delivery was especially poignant. Shanahan on bass, and Jackson Smith, hitting those high notes, similarly colluded. ‘Dancing Barefoot’ (from ‘Wave’) has an intoxicating melody and is illustrative of Smith’s elegiac prose and passion: “Oh God, I fell for you,” she cried repeatedly, immersed in the moment. ‘Pissing in a River’ also flaunted her devout appreciation of literary devices, and Kaye’s whammy work provided the icing. During this second half, Smith was unabashedly on fire. But instrumentally, songs like, the Celtic classic, ‘Dirty Old Town’ relied more on band infusion. And as expected, ‘Horses’ was a dizzying highlight, with Smith spitting out the iconic word salad and never missing a beat, with Kaye numbing the guitar strings beneath her incantations. Few performers are as unpretentious as Smith. At one point, the easy-going atmosphere came to a grinding halt, when an impulsive fan threw a beer can onstage. This act was in response to one of her social comments, but rather than take the comment under the chin, she angrily explained that she could have slipped and fallen. Fortunately, her other fans supported her with massive applause. And when a more benevolent fan shouted, “I love you,” Smith grinned slyly and cryptically shot back: “You love me? Where were you on f*cking Valentine’s Day!” This truly enjoyable show reached its zenith when Smith galvanized fans for ‘People Have the Power.’ Smith’s daughter, Jesse, climbed onstage to play keys. She’d also take part in the bow. “This song was written by Jesse and Jackson’s father for you. Don’t forget. Use your voice,” Smith requested between a stream of steady hand claps. “I have been under the weather, so today was my debut back. I knew Chicago would have my back,” Patti added humbly, shaking her silvery mane and smiling. “Tonight I had a great time.” Photos by Jim Summaria www.jimsummariaphoto.com

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Patti Smith - The Salt Shed, Chicago, 29/12/2023

Patti Smith - The Salt Shed, Chicago, 29/12/2023

Patti Smith - The Salt Shed, Chicago, 29/12/2023

Patti Smith - The Salt Shed, Chicago, 29/12/2023

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Lisa Torem finds Patti Smith’s explosive, emotional performance with Jackson Smith, Dee Jay Daugherty, Lenny Kaye and Tony Shanahan at Chicago’s Salt Shed exceeding expectations.

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