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Review: Patti Smith at Stubb’s: Waiting for “Gloria”

Staff Writer
Austin 360

By Michael Corcoran

Editor’s note: This article was originally published May 1, 2013

Patti Smith’s show at Stubb’s Tuesday night felt like sitting on the tarmac for an hour before flying to a beloved destination. But when the show hit liftoff in the last half hour, it was hard to imagine that the “punk priestess” was ever better.

After opening with the still-lame reggae of “Redondo Beach,” Smith and her four-piece band (including charter members Lenny Kaye on guitar and Jay Dee Daugherty on drums) tested patience with a pair of songs (“April Fool” and “Fuji-San”) from 2012’s “Banga.” Songwriters will say their songs are their children, well, those two were LaToya and Tito.

The show started at 8:20 p.m. and if you showed up at 9, all you missed was the long set-up for “Gloria,” the sensational first song on the first album that let the world know in 1975 that music was about to change.

The turning point was the frantic jam at the end of “Beneath the Southern Cross,” dedicated to George Jones in a “people who died” trilogy that also nodded to Amy Winehouse (“This Is the Girl”) and Richie Havens (“Ghost Dance”).

Another worth-the-wait highlight was a mesmerizing cover of Neil Young’s “It’s a Dream,” which brought goosebumps and more than a few tears. Patti looked and sounded great for someone whose greatest creative achievements were a pair of covers recorded almost 40 years ago. For once, Stubb’s was comfortably not packed and Smith made the setting even more relaxed with big smile anecdotes about the delightfully weak coffee at Magnolia Café, the addictive power of “Stay” by Rihanna and hanging out in the alley behind CBGB’s with Tom Verlaine of Television. That latter story set up a rare performance of “Distant Fingers” from Smith’s disappointing second LP “Radio Ethiopia.”

About halfway through the set, Kaye led the band in a medley of “Nuggets” from his days as a garage rock guru: “Night Time,” “We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet,” “Pushin’ Too Hard” and bassist Tony Shanahan belting the first George Jones hit “Why Baby Why.” It was fast-paced and rocking, raw energy La Patti’s set could’ve used more of. I’m a fan and “Gloria,” then show-closing “People Have the Power,” proved worth all the boredom. But Smith will do her diehards a big favor by seeing herself less as an artist with something left to say and more as a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member with a legacy to uphold.