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Concert Reviews:
Patti Smith finishes Royal Oak stand with messages of power and unity

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2019

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ROYAL OAK -- You know you're at home when someone can tell you your fly's open.

And Patti Smith was decidedly at home on Tuesday night, Sept. 17, during the galvanizing second of her two concerts at the Royal Oak Music Theatre.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and National Book Award winner, of course, lived in the metro area, notably St. Clair Shores, from 1979 until shortly after her husband, MC5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith, passed away in 1994. So there's a kind of comfort when she plays in these parts, usually surrounded by friends from those days as well as family in the form of son Jackson, who plays guitar in her band, and daughter Jesse, who sang and played piano on two of Tuesday's 15 songs.

Back to the fashion "incident." "My fly's down?" Smith -- sporting black bazer and vest, white T-shirt and jeans -- said after being informed by a fan in the front of the general admission pit before "Dancing Barefoot." What do you do when your fly's down? You fly up!" She then directed the crowd, with a laugh, to “discard all the photos taken before that."

That kind of comfort informed the entirety of Smith's 90-minute show, complementing her characteristically passionate performance. Smith is part of a rarefied rank of rockers -- Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, soon-to-be Bruce Springsteen among them -- still at a peak in their 70s, playing with the vigor and potency of her youth while embracing a richness and nuance that the intervening years have brought to her voice and demeanor. On stage Smith is still enveloped in her songs, but not in a manner that's inclusive; Rather, she makes it easy for the audience to join Smith and her four-piece band in her reverie, an almost trance-like experience whose spell is at once provocative and pleasurable.

Always looking forward, she began Tuesday's show reciting the lyrics to her 1988 anthem "People Have the Power," telling the Royal Oak crowd that "I don’t know when we'll met again, but next year is an election year -- so get ready." Smith updated her gripping voice-and-piano version of Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" with "look at mother nature on the run in the 21st century" and urged her fans to "unify" and, essentially, fight the power towards the end of a long, jammed-out rendition of "Beneath the Southern Cross."

The show also featured a vibey cover of the Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Are You Experienced?" and solid treatments of Smith favorites such as "Free Money," "Redondo Beach" and "My Blakean Year," while guitarist Lenny Kaye and bassist-pianist Tony Shanahan took lead vocals during a medley of the Rolling Stones' "I'm Free" and Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side," respectively. Smith dedicated "Tarkovsy (The Second Stop is Jupiter)" to Joe Cohen, the noted musician and photographer who passed away on Monday, Sept. 16, and also made mention of the Cars' Ric Ocasek, who died the day before.

Discussing the latter, however, Smith -- whose new book, "Year of the Monkey," publishes on Sept. 24 -- took a shot at the British newspaper the Guardian, which in an appreciation of Ocasek also made note of Smith and claimed that she "didn't make any headway until I got Bruce Springsteen to write me a hit." Clarifying that it was Springsteen who offered her "Because the Night," Smith declared that, "I didn't get nobody to do nothing for me" before playing the song.

Before the full-band performance of "People Have the Power," with Jesse joining, Smith noted that "it's so beautiful for Fred and I to have our children on stage, fully grown. They're both taller than me, but they will always be our children." A charged "Gloria" provided the night's encore, with Smith adding an admonition to "V-O-T-E" to the song's refrain and urging the crowd to listen to "City Slang," the signature song from Fred Smith's Sonic's Rendezvous Band -- which appropriately blasted over the speakers as the band left the stage."

"It's so great to be back," Smith noted before taking her leave -- and there surely wasn't a soul in the Royal Oak on Tuesday who felt otherwise.

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