After last week seeing Patti Smith in Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs from the ‘Horses’ session it was quite an experience to see her perform that album at the amazing Roundhouse in Camden in London this weekend.
It was pretty much goosebumps all the way from the moment she began reading the sleeve notes from a 12″ copy of the album right through to the emotional chanting of the names of those she’s lost during Elegie.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget her rendition of ‘Birdland’ which she began with the aid of a handful of sheets of A4 paper to help her remember the dense lyrics. As she became lost in the beat poetry of it though, she scrunched the paper up and threw it into the crowd.
‘Gloria’ was of course glorious but was pretty much played straight compared with the intense, improvised and frankly crazed version that she blinded us with a few years ago at the Coal Exchange in Cardiff.
Actually, comparing the two I thought the Cardiff gig was a better way of experiencing Patti Smith. That’s because in a smaller venue there was a closer connection with her and the band. She was much more relaxed during that performance, laughing and joking with the audience and sitting on the stage during the band’s traditional stomp through 60s garage rock. I think the sense of occasion in the Roundhouse – 40 years since the album’s release, 39 years since she first performed there and the 50th ‘Horses’ show – made it a more formal affair, or as formal as anything Patti Smith’s involved in can be.
Because she’s extraordinary. Spitting, shouting, shaking with sweat and an intensity that she punctures with a daft anecdote or throaty giggle.
Her voice is still amazing, ranging from sweet and soft to a raging bellow, and the songs that make up ‘Horses’ sound stunning. They make so much sense together. So much so that the later part of the concert comprising songs from other albums which you’d be normally be delighted to hear her perform, seemed in this context unnecessary. I’m not going to complain though: she could have carried on for hours as far as I was concerned.
Oh and the Roundhouse is an experience in itself. On this our third visit, I remembered to look up and saw this: