This year has been a punk rock hero year for me. I didn’t think it would get any better after seeing Iggy and the Stooges at Riot Fest a few weeks back here in Toronto. But nothing could have prepared me for seeing my punk rock heroine, Ms. Patti Smith, at Massey Hall on a cool Friday night in September.
Surprisingly it was not a full house at Massey Hall; I’m guessing it was the dear ticket prices that kept the aging Toronto punk rock community away. Massey Hall was the perfect venue for Ms. Smith. This building has some of the best acoustics in the city and aches history. A wonderful welcome mat for our girl. Those that there were in attendance were ready for our Ms. Smith dose when she took the stage.
In full swagger dressed in her signature creased blazer, shaggy long grey black hair, a distressed white t-shirt, rad motorcycle boots, wrinkled faded denim jeans she grinned a genuine smile as she walked onto the stage. She began her performance by singing and dancing effortlessly to songs like ‘Redondo Beach’, ‘Distant Fingers’ (for the girls and Amy Winehouse) and John Lennon’s ‘Beautiful Boy’ (Darling Boy) (for the boys).
In between songs in true Patti form she segued between spoken word poetry moments and strutting it liked she was transported back to New York’s Punk Rock heyday with dashes of familial warmth. She congratulated Toronto on our film festival and mentioned she had checked out Jim Jaramusch’s TIFF offering the night before. In typical cheekiness she pumped the comment up by paying Nicole Kidman an ode in song.
I observed fellow ladies up dancing to ‘Dancing Barefoot’ perhaps like they had many times before in their own living rooms without Patti as a witness. It was earlier this year that Patti was in town showcasing her photographic works at the AGO. Her performance that accompanied that shown sold out in seconds and left many disappointed. This show was making up for that.
Next up was ‘Psychotic Reaction’ which was sung with so much sexy venom that it left us wondering what was behind the smirk in her performance. After the song, she told the audience many had asked her what punk rock meant to her during those CBGB years. ‘Psychotic Reaction is my punk rock,’ she stated giddily.
By the time Springsteen’s ‘Because The Night’ rolled out the crowd was warmed up and ready for sing-along. Full of melancholy she dedicated it to her late husband Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith. In that moment, I had a flashback of reading her book ‘Just Kids’ in bed at home and remembering the honour she paid to her relationships with men during life. Sam Shephard being just another one of them (man, he’s a dreamboat). Patti is a class act.
She continued on to bring us gorgeous versions of ‘Birdland’, ‘Beneath the Southern Cross’ , ‘Land/Gloria’, ‘Banga’,’ My Blakean Year’,’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger’,’ Pissing in a River’, ‘Break It Up’ and ‘We Three’. There were continuous heckling moments from concert goers between songs begging her to play tunes from her catalogue. At one point I observed Patti looking vulnerable as she listened closely to their demands. But she wasn’t bien sur. She was doing her own thing on her own terms as per usual. A fellow concert goer shouted ‘let her sing what she wants’ and she did. Punk rock.
Not at all too cool to dance and socialize amongst her people she took moments to come out onto the floor to dance with the audience, give a young boy sitting in the front row her guitar pick and then invite more guests onto the stage to play guitar, dance and sing. We were family. You can’t pretend that kinda joy as it beamed from her face. For a normally reserved Toronto crowd, they were brought to their feet.
As the show was in its last minutes, there were mentions of God, Syria, whilst spitting onto Massey Hall’s stage once shared, as Patti mentioned, with the likes of Maria Callas. ‘This is not a movie, this is real life’ she screamed. That’s when the strings of her guitar were pulled in full performance art fashion. ‘Katniss Everdeen’ was even mentioned. Who knew our girl Patti knew of The Hunger Games?
A living punk rock heroine? Indeed and just as antiestablishment. She blessed and dumped rose petals onto the head’s of her worshipping fans before she quietly said goodbye and left just as quickly as she came two hours before.