8:08 AM EDT, May 7, 2013
Sex as sacrament, youth as state of mind, religion as rock ‘n’ roll -- Patti Smith jumped right into that deep, wide river at the outset of her sold-out concert Monday at the Vic Theatre.
“I move in another dimension,” she declared on “Ain’t It Strange,” with its clipped reggae undertones and dream-like mix of eroticism and innocence. The singer has about a half-dozen personas milling around inside her, all from different points in her life. She’s liable to tap into them at any moment, sometimes shifting time and perspective within the space of a few lines. Over her acoustic guitar she improvised a poem about her birth during a Chicago snowstorm in 1946, then segued into the mystical vagabond blues, “My Blakean Year,” and a sparse, yearning cover of Neil Young’s “It’s a Dream.”
She entered wearing a hat, boots and jeans, looking ready for battle. As the concert moved along, she appeared to age in reverse. She removed the hat and let her hair spill over her shoulders, then tied together two pigtails and shed the coat, as if to transform herself into a skinny-armed adolescent rabble-rouser.
The two-hour set moved in that direction too, with the arms-open “April Fool” and the sensual “Dancing Barefoot” setting up a series of secular prayers: “Fuji-san,” a meditation on a mountain in response to the 2011 earthquake that devastated Japan; the “we shall live again” chant of “Ghost Dance”; and the slow-build drone of “Beneath the Southern Cross,” with an arms-raised finish. “Let the angels take you through space,” she said, letting her John Coltrane-loving, cosmic-hippie persona take over.
A medley of garage-rock songs served as a reminder of where she came from and what she values. Guitarist Lenny Kaye and drummer Jay Lee Daugherty have been with her since the ‘70s, with bassist Tony Shanahan and son Jackson Smith relatively recent additions. They rarely play four chords when one will do, and they rock with minimalist fuss and fury, a solid foundation for Smith’s poetic lyrics. High and low art collide. Smith is an artist, after all, who dedicates albums to Romanian-born sculptors and French symbolist poets while communing with the Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard” and Johnny Thunders’ “Born to Lose,” both of which were performed.
The remainder of the show stayed on that course. For the cathartic “Pissing in a River,” the narrator emptied herself of everything she has in a hopeless cause. “Because the Night” hammered out her resilience. “Gloria” still sounds glorious, transgressive, transcendent. As opening lines go, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins” is unbeatable. It was how Smith introduced herself to the world in 1975 on her first album, “Horses,” and the song still holds power because the singer reshapes it to suit the moment. This night it brought a fervent shout-out to persecuted Russian punk-rockers. “Free Pussy Riot!” Smith demanded.
“Banga” had the band howling and barking, with the pig-tailed Smith orchestrating her mongrel orchestra. When she picked up an electric guitar, the white noise began to descend. She invoked “The Hunger Games” and another riot grrrl, Katniss.
“I like a girl with a bow and arrow,” Smith said with a mischievous smile. Then she yanked hard on one of her last remaining guitar strings – “This sign of love goes to you” – until it snapped.
(Tickets remain for Smith’s concert Tuesday at the Vic.)
Patti Smith set list Monday at the Vic Theatre:
1. Ain’t It Strange
2. Redondo Beach
3. April Fool
4. Dancing Barefoot
6. Ghost Dance
7. Beneath the Southern Cross
8. Garage-rock medley
9. My Blakean Year
10. It’s a Dream (Neil Young cover)
11. Pissing in a River
12. Because the Night
15. People Have the Power
16. Rock N Roll N-----
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