(Gig of a Lifetime) Manchester Academy, September 2012
published: 13 /
In 'Gig of a Lifetime' Nicky Crewe writes of attending a Patti Smith concert at the Academy in Manchester in 2012
This woman is a legend, and that raises expectations. So – how to describe her? Her androgynous beauty is still beyond compare. There were t-shirts for sale with Robert Mapplethorpe’s iconic image of her printed on them. Her beauty has become more solid, more earthy. With her long hair half plaited, wearing her signature jacket, waistcoat, t-shirt, jeans and boots, with her wedding ring on a chain round her neck, and a ring flashing on each hand, she redefines the sexual allure of rock n roll. I’m guessing it’s her wedding ring, because she held it whenever she spoke of her late husband, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith.
Sweating, spitting, snarling, swearing, smiling, she was totally engaged with her music, the band and the audience. A poet who can sing. A punk who is both a mother and a widow. A woman who can tease about practising her catwalk walk back on stage for the encore, but who moves with grace and fluidity, acting out her lyrics, throwing her arms wide to draw us in with ‘Come, Come’, and then raising them high to remind us that we have the power. She dances like a teenager. She has balls. Eye contact and a smile for the audience members. Then eyes closed, looking like the death mask of a Romantic poet. Song after song, old and new, supported by Lenny Kaye and a great band. When Lenny and the lads did their own songs, she came down to the front of the stage to connect with the audience. 'Because the Night', that hymn to passion, longing, lust and love was full of power.
"I want your babies," shouted a man in the audience. This is a woman in her mid–sixties. Age shall not wither her – nor should it wither any of us. And any woman who feels the pressure to become a commodity in the music business world should take a look at her. It was hot, and as she said, we were all "hot".
Beyond politics, beyond religion, she talked to us of freedom, "outside of society’. Becoming true, free, wise to being fooled and manipulated. "Work hard, stay clean." Making her protests about so called friendly fire – the only weapon is a guitar, and sharing her support of the members of Pussy Riot. She revealed that her ancestry was Cumbrian, Welsh and Irish, launderesses and shepherds. We started bleating. She called us her flock of black sheep, and she sang the nursery rhyme to us. We sang along. Past and present, childhood memories and future associations.
At the end of the night she told us she hadn’t finished with us yet. What a wonderful threat, a terrible promise.
New fans and old, those there because they thought they should be, those there because it had been a long time coming. We all shared the power, the beauty, the air, the breath, literally inspiration. Create or explode. We were speechless when we left. I managed to articulate, "I know where I’m going now." By that I mean that I have rediscovered my tribe, my flock, my calling.
I wrote most of this for my personal blog, 'Historic Gig Guide', within a couple of days of the concert. In fifty years of going to gigs I have seen nearly everyone I have ever wanted to see and more besides. Musicians at the start of their careers, at the peak of success and in their productive later years. Concerts have spanned package tours, festivals, seedy clubs, elegant concert halls and the Hacienda. Every genre of music too, from pop to soul, jazz to classical, psychedelia to the blues, folk to world music. So many great experiences to choose from.
For me experiencing live music can be sexual, spiritual, transcendental and transformative. This Patti Smith concert brought all of that together in one life enhancing experience.
I knew it was important at the time, and looking back to that night in September 2012, I know it’s why I am sitting here writing this piece for Pennyblack. The experience gave me the courage to make changes in my life, to embrace the opportunities presented by those changes, and to have no fear of growing older and being true to myself.