“I always fuck it up in Brighton, I’m perfect everywhere else!” So laughs Patti Smith at the climax of an evening that moves, stirs and, yes, amuses a packed crowd at Brighton Dome. The show, which Smith confessed was also a dress rehearsal for the following night’s All Points East festival appearance (“There’s a lot of songs we haven’t played for a long, long time”) has all of the unpredictability and eccentricity that fans have come to expect from Smith. It also contains some of the finest songs written in any era, performed by an artist who has lost none of her power and potency.
So vast is her back catalogue that you don’t quite know what to expect from the night – will it be new material or curiosities? No fear of that as Smith and her band launch straight into a glorious ‘Redondo Beach’, before a performance of ‘Citizen Ship’ that is as prescient now as it was 30 years ago (“I was caught like a moth with its wings outta sync / Cut the cord, overboard, just a refugee”). Rage and anger show on Smith’s face as she spits the lyrics out, beating the air with her fists as if she could change the world by her will alone. That is just a taster for a night of pure emotion and an unquenchable spirit of revolution and change. ‘Ghost Dance’ follows, the crowd raising their arms and ‘shaking the ghost out’ at her request – an early sign of an artist and audience in perfect symbiosis.
A handful of covers are thrown into the mix, all clearly channelling the same spirit and fire as Smith’s own work. ‘Beds Are Burning’ is a slow-building, slithering creature – as if Smith and her band have summoned some mighty behemoth to protect this world from the ecological terrors currently being wrought on it. John Lennon’s beautiful ‘Mind Games’ is given a wholly different feel, Smith reading the lyrics from a sheet before repeatedly shouting: “He wanted us to make love, not war!” The whole evening is so charged, a reminder that music does have the power to change minds and worlds if it is only allowed to. Dedicating ‘Beneath The Southern Cross’ to the memory of Allen Ginsberg and the potential of youth (name-checking the Parkland students amongst others), it becomes a swirling epic, the lengthy outro sweeping around the room with Smith acting as a focal rallying point, in a strikingly similar fashion to one Nick Cave.
Amongst all the passion, there is plenty of levity and humour. Popping off stage while her band take centre stage for a Velvet Underground medley, she re-appears several minutes later, cup of tea in hand. “I found some people out there, I was hanging out with them and almost forgot to come back” she explains, summoning up images of some poor unprepared soul in the Dome basement suddenly having one of music’s most iconic figures appearing at their desk. All the way through, the talented band keep the show progressing with an almost jazz-like ability to shift according to her mood and movement. This is a set of musicians who have largely played together for years, and it showed. Andy York, Jackson Smith (her son) and Lenny Kaye (all on guitars), along with Tony Shanahan (bass) and Jay Dee Daugherty (drums) constantly give the impression that they could all be playing in different rooms and they would still remain as ridiculously tight as ever.
There is only one song for a night like this to finish on, and sure enough ‘Gloria’ is the crowning glory. Reminding the crowd to: “Always be ready for the revolution, and always have a peanut butter sandwich in your pocket for when it comes”, it is a stunning, life-affirming, intense and genuinely spine-tingling finale to an emotional and powerful evening. Smith may feel that she never gets it perfect in Brighton, but that’s all part of her charm and we really wouldn’t have it any other way. A night, and an artist, for the ages.