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Concert Reviews:
Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye celebrate 50 years together with virtual show

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

Posted: Saturday, February 20, 2021

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Reviewing a journal entry during her virtual concert on Friday night, Feb. 19, Patti Smith found an observation from her first public performance with guitarist Lenny Kaye 50 years prior.

"It seemed to have a negative effect" on the audience, Smith recalled. "I took that as a good sign."

It certainly was.

Since that first collaboration -- during a poetry night on Feb. 10, 1971 at St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery in New York -- Kaye has been a fixture in the Patti Smith Group, co-writing much of its material, particularly on the band's first five albums. On Friday, the duo -- joined by bandmate Tony Shanahan on piano, bass, guitar and backing vocals -- spent 70 minutes celebrate their golden anniversary at Electric Lady Studios in Manhattan. Smith, a former St. Clair Shores resident, and Kaye laced the 10 songs with warm anecdotes, visibly reveling in what they've created together during half a century of friendship.

The memories of that very first performance were certainly impressive. Though they had just 18 minutes on stage, according to Smith, the audience included her paramours Sam Shepherd and Robert Mapplethorpe, Lou Reed and luminaries from the poetry and music journalism world, the latter mostly via Kaye. Among Friday's highlights was "the poetic Ballad of a Bad Boy," which Smith wrote about Shepherd and which she and Kaye performed that night.

The trio also played the Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes" in tribute to the late Reed, and a powerful rendition of "Birdland," with Smith and Kaye stretching out towards the end while Shanahan held down the tempo. Smith recalled writing "Beneath the Southern Cross" with Kaye by phone from Michigan, after asking the guitarist for some "simple chords" to use for the song. They remembered writing "Seneca" on the ill-fated cruise ship Costa Concordia while making a film with Jean-Luc Godard, and Smith preceded "Broken Flag" with her poem "Notes to the Future."

Kaye, who switched between acoustic and electric guitars throughout the show, also played "World Book Night," a lullaby he wrote for the event of the same name.

It was the kind of show that could have gone on for much longer but certainly offered insight, both visual and audible, of the rare chemistry that's kept Smith and Kaye so vibrant over all this time. And, best of all, it indicated the partnership is as potent as ever and still has plenty left to be revealed.

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