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Patti Smith review – punk, poetry and the raw power of connection

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ot many rock shows begin with a standing ovation – and not many events at the Royal Albert Hall end with a mosh pit – but if there’s any artist primed to turn convention on its head, it’s Patti Smith. The punk legend and poet laureate of dissent returned to London for two nights this week, with the apparent intent to wring blood, sweat and love out of every second of stage time.

This moment is long overdue for fans – and for Smith, who speaks of having had the historic venue in her sights for years. Now 74, her voice is more robust and commanding than ever. Howling and stomping inside the grand Victorian dome, her warm and mighty presence clearly knocks something loose for everyone. Even the act of slinging off her blazer is met with admiration. “How do you stay so cool?” someone shouts from the front. “Sorry,” Smith smiles, sipping from a mug. “It’s genetic.

The crowd is rapt throughout her mixture of Patti Smith Group ragers, shamanic spoken word material and covers (among them a beautiful take on Bob Dylan’s One Too Many Mornings, and a roof-raising rendition of Them’s Gloria). “She is the root connection / She is connecting with he”, Smith purrs in opener Dancing Barefoot, as if to state the purpose of the evening outright. From dedicating Grateful to everyone who held on to their tickets for two years, to paying tribute to late greats Lee “Scratch” Perry and Charlie Watts, to the fact that her children are in the band (daughter Jesse on the keyboard, son Jackson on the guitar), Smith’s work is deeply connected to her audience, and to history.”



Between songs, she tells stories about Founding Father and political revolutionary Thomas Paine, encourages us to visit the Bunhill Fields – the burial site of Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan and William Blake – and delivers an improvised verse about her love of ITV3 detective shows. Even the ink stain on her shirt, she jokes, is a “homage”, then explains how Mozart and Beethoven would ruffle feathers by showing up at parties with ink-stained cuffs.

Everything is a story, and everything has a purpose. It’s a sense of being alive that feels especially alien right now, as society collapses and the world literally burns (she mentions the “sin” of the climate crisis several times). But that power of connection is there, bottled like lightning, in the room with Patti Smith.

Guardian

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