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Concert Reviews:
Patti Smith Makes Detroit Return A Homecoming

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Saturday, February 20, 2010

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DETROIT -- She may drop a bit more profanity than the tourism bureau might deem appropriate, but Detroit definitely has a booster in Patti Smith.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer, songwriter and poet did, after all, live in this parts (St. Clair Shores) from 1980-96 with her late husband, former MC5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith, and their two children, Jackson and Jesse. And those days were very much on Smith's mind during her 100-minute performance Friday night (Feb. 19) at Saint Andrews Hall, just one of two full-band shows in the Midwest to promote her new memoir, "Just Kids."

Smith and company opened the 15-song set with her romantic 1979 elegy "Frederick," and she preceded "My Blakean Year" with some free-form verse about her experiences in Detroit. At the end of the anthemic "People Have the Power" she urged the capacity crowd to "Use your voice! Reclaim the city! Detroit -- you are great!," returning to that theme during the fierce, show-closing "Rock N Roll Nigger" and its admonitions to "Hold on to your history! Move in! Move back to the city! You are (expletive) great!," closing the night by announcing that "this hour of love goes to you, Fred."

It all went down well with an audience that was thrilled to just have Smith back in town under any conditions. The local references were certainly appreciated, but the fans were just as stoked to hear everything else Smith had to offer, from early career favorites such as "Redondo Beach" and "Free Money" to later fare like "Beneath the Southern Cross," "Wing" and "My Blakean Year." The ethereal, jammy "Beneath...," in fact, showcased Jackson Smith's guitar work, with mom cracking at the end of the song "I taught him everything he knows."

Smith and her band dug deep into her catalog for selections like "We Three" and "Ain't It Strange," and they offered up surprises such as a cover of Jim Carroll's "People Who Died" -- dedicated to the poet-rocker who died last Sept. 11 and with verses shared by Smith, guitarist Lenny Kaye and bassist-keyboardist Tony Shanahan -- and a rendition of the Miracles' Motown hit "Tracks of My Tears" as a nod to Smokey Robinson's 70th birthday.

Smith, who was in strong, emotive voice all night, preceded "Because the Night" with a story about how she fleshed out the Bruce Springsteen-started song's lyrics while waiting for a late-arriving telephone call from Fred. Her treatment of Them's "Gloria" was its usual cacophonous, garage rock on steroids fury, while daughter Jesse and her musical partner Mike Campbell -- who opened Friday's show -- joined the ensemble for "People Have the Power."

It was a memorable kind of night, an artist fully engaged with and connected to an audience in a locale that meant a great deal to her. "It's good to be back," Smith noted, and those who were there clearly didn't want her to leave.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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