Patti Smith, Jesus Godfuckingdamn

Her show at the Junction last night was about the purest slab of punk/rock that I have ever experienced. It’s a small venue: there were maybe four or five hundred people there, all standing, and the sound was excellent. She was able to climb down to the audience and enjoy herself for a couple of songs, though I was too far to see what actually happened. The band was wonderfully tight: two of them must have been playing with her for 32 years now; time enough to learn the chords to Gloria. And, yes, she did Gloria, along with Gimme Shelter, Are You Experienced, Smells like Teen Spirit and a few more I didn’t recognise. It was impossible not to dance. Somehow the passion, the relish and the gawky outsiderhood came together into something that worked as irresistably and pre-rationally as some religious rituals. I remember thinking about half way through that this is what Christianity ought to be like. The show was full of blasphemy, of course — the whole room singing along to “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” — but this sounded in itself strangely tragic, rather than defiant. It seemed to me more a statement of a ghastly fact than anything else.

In between songs, she talked excitedly about her day in Cambridge — tea with the fellows at King’s College, visiting Wittgenstein’s grave, performing on Rimbaud’s birthday, lying down to recover from all this excitement in one of the meadows and opening her eyes to find a cow examining her. There was a great deal of laughter from the audience at all this. This seemed to me one of the points of punk, and indeed of the hippie music that preceded it: the audience and the musicians should be all part of the same thing and this so very seldom happens anywhere but in pubs that it really does need celebrating when you stumble on it.

One last note about the music: all three of the musicians took their turns playing bass: Lenny Kaye playing in a completely unmelodic, driving punk style which worked very well on some songs, and the keyboard player, when it was his turn, using the bass as a melodic instrument, in some songs supplying almost all the interest and variety. Enough. It was all glorious. If there is any chance to see her in a place like that, take it.

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