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"Her introduction to 'People Have The Power' had me raising a clenched fist like they were playing 'The Internationale' at the end of some rabble-rousing meeting. I'd be gobsmacked if there weren't people crying in the audience."

George Berger reviews Patti Smith's London gig.


Patti Smith
London Shepherds Bush Empire
11 August 2003

I'll freely admit to being lazy when it comes to past heroes -- I don't want them to play new stuff, but I realise they've got egos so I'll begrudgingly sit through the new crap waiting for the real reason I've paid to come along -- a finale crammed with nostalgia for an age still yet to come.

Not so Patti. She intersperses old songs ("Break It Up", "Because The Night", "Redondo Beach") with poetry -- her own and that of William Blake (Little Lamb) -- extended banter with the fawning crowd, and some of the most powerful anti-war rhetoric to be heard for years. She namedrops the Brontė sisters as part of a monologue about tidying houses -- people cheer -- this isn't Pop Idol. Her introduction to "People Have The Power" had me raising a clenched fist like they were playing "The Internationale" at the end of some rabble-rousing meeting. I'd be gobsmacked if there weren't people crying in the audience. You find yourself listening intently to all the new lyrics because they're as good as the old ones -- they still spit fire and break hearts and steadfastly refuse to accept limits. Move in this here atmosphere where everything's allowed. She reads a poem for Jackson Pollock and I understand for the first time. Verily this is an education as well. The human condition under the microscope -- the search for the cure mapped by a poetry accessible to all.

Her one concession to the rock'n'roll pantomime is finishing with "Rock'n'Roll Nigger", which has them metaphorically bopping in the aisles and rightly so. Outside of society. But tonight has been far more than a rock'n'roll show -- tonight has proved once more that some things matter. At one moment, myself and my partner in crime for the evening Suzie get involved in a thongs vs. PE knickers debate and the bloke behind us asks us to be quiet! Patti Smith commands that kind of respect.

She has the Factor X that separates the great from the good. Last night I stood in the same room as Patti Smith -- in these vaguely insane times, that alone was enough to make me feel more human. What she did with that space traversed entertainment and gave us all hope -- that rarest of minerals.


George Berger is a freelance writer, with punk rock dna. He has written for Sounds, Melody Maker and Amnesty International among others. He has also written 3 books, with one published thus far: Dance Before the Storm: the Official Story of The Levellers (Virgin Books 1999). George edits abisti. He lives where the mood takes him and funds allow.

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