“Jesus died for somebody’s sins…” say the T-shirt fronts on the merchandise stall – “…But not mine!” say the backs. The signature under the words is that of Patti Smith. Not even a Month old and Bonns Kunst!Rasen welcomed a third American Rock Legend peering out from it’s steep stage, and as the slogan suggests, Smith still has plenty to say and she pulls no punches saying it.
Whereas recent concerts at Kunst!Rasen have seen Lou Reed speak only to his band and Bob Dylan seemingly speak to no one at all, Patti Smith was positively bursting with chat – at one point during Mondays concert she even pointed along the arena side at a resplendent Beech and said „Hello Tree!“. She spoke of her numerous visits to Beethoven’s Birthplace, she spoke of the Beethoven Bust bought for her late husband Fred Smith, one time guitarist with MC5, for whom she said music meant three people: “Beethoven, Coltrane and Hendrix!”. Whilst her band powered through ‘In The Nightime’ she even made a short walk round the stage barricade to speak to fans. In short, if Reed and Dylan caused a shortfall in musician/audience communication, after Patti Smith the situation was rectified to the power of ten.
Only a few minutes into her arrival onstage I had the the feeling that Patti Smith is rather like a human radio receiver set permanently to ‘on’ and picking up everything around her. In between numbers she spies a barge meandering down the Rhine between trees and exclaims joyfully “Look! – it’s like that ship was walking through the forest!”
Thankfully Smiths human radio broadcasts as powerfully as it receives. On disc it’s the slower numbers that catch my attention, and indeed her song to Amy Winehouse ‘This is the Girl’ was a highlight at Kunst!Rasen with it’s often moving, if sometimes obtuse lyric:“This is the girl who yearned to be heard. So much for cradling a smouldering bird”
Eclipsing to some extent even the emotion of ‘Because The Night’.
It was the moments when Patti Smith really let rip, literally spitting out lyrics like the Punk Queen of old, that she really made her mark on the audience and on my memory though. ‘Free Money’ and especially ‘Gloria’ had both Smith and her Band, especially long time guitarist Lenny Kaye, in howling top form, literally so on the intro to ‘Banga’ with it’s dog yelps and howls. Probably the most explosive, dramatic performance of the night, or indeed the concerts at Kunst!rasen to date, was a stunning version of ‘Rock n Roll Nigger’ with updated lyrics reflecting the endless Wars being waged worlwide. Smith shouts, pleads and finally screams“People are killing each other, killing each others childrens, Why?… fucking why?!!”
At 65 Patti Smith continues to be the enigma that fascinated legendary Artist Robert Mappelthorpe. Possibly even more so than in those days, with Street Punk attitude married to age and experience. and a voracious appetite for assimilating and creating Art and Culture. Songs about people: like Amerigo Vespucci, Maria Schneider and Amy Winehouse. Songs about the environment like ‘Fuji-San’ (last years Earthquake in Japan), songs to people, like Actor Johnny Depp (‘Nine’).
If you thought Patti Smith was yesterdays news then give her new CD ‘Banga’ a listen, make it to a show if you missed Kunst!Rasen, on the evidence of this show Patti Smith has more to say than ever and she is saying it BETTER than ever.
Apologies to Seattle based support Band The Walkabouts. I’ve heard great things about their FolkRock style but problems with admission to the venue meant I just got to the stage in time to see you all packing your things back in their cases. Maybe I’ll get to catch you at the Harmonie sometime?