Patti Smith Brandishes a Weapon

December 30th, 2011

Patti Smith and Her Band – The Bowery Ballroom – December 29, 2011

Last night, on the eve of her 65th birthday, Patti Smith and her band began their sold-out three-night run at The Bowery Ballroom, just as they’ve done for the past 14 years. After beginning the show with intense, energetic versions of “Space Monkey,” “25th Floor” and “Birdland,” Smith greeted the hometown crowd, chatting in her typical familiar way, and described the many international travels and adventures she and the band experienced over the past year. “But there’s nothing like New York!” shouted out an overzealous crowd member. Smith paused, staring out, stone-faced, as a slight tension filled the room. “This is my fuckin’ punch line,” she proclaimed, with that ever-present twinkle in her eye.

In addition to her signature sharp attitude and wit, Smith’s performance was on point as well, as she interwove her spoken word with songs from the span of her career, including renditions of “Summer Cannibals,” “My Blakean Year,” “Don’t Say Nothing,” and crowd-pleasers like “Gloria,” and “Pissing in a River.” Throughout, longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye peppered the tunes with vigorous, intricate guitar solos. Of course, Smith is also known for her activism and political views, and in the past year has been a great supporter of the #Occupy movement. In addition to performing rallying songs like “People Have the Power,” she shouted messages of inspiration to the crowd throughout the set, encouraging us to speak out and create art, as well as suggesting that we occupy and focus efforts around the struggling city of Detroit.

When the clock struck midnight, everyone in the venue sang “Happy Birthday” to Smith, and the band struck up a snarling version of “Rock N Roll Nigger,” as the singer-songwriter peeled off her blazer, danced around and shredded away on an electric guitar, not unlike how she may have looked back when the song was released in 1978. “Behold the weapon of my generation!” Smith shouted, holding up her electric guitar. “It’s the only fucking weapon you need!” And with a few more strums and a wave to the crowd, she left the stage, a triumphant way to usher in her 65th year. —Alena Kastin