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Punk legend vital as ever

Patti Smith
Barrymore Theatre
Madison, WI
June 23, 2004

Patti Smith
Patti Smith

Story By Tony Bonyata
Photos By Phil Bonyata

She may not be at the top of the local high school kids' iPod playlists, but that doesn't mean that Patti Smith is any less vital than when she helped usher in the first wave of punk rock back in 1974. Its been thirty years since the release of her first single "Hey Joe / Piss Factory," but her influence and impact still reverberates throughout the undercurrent of rock music to this day.
This was evident during her often spellbinding show at the Barrymore Theatre in Madison last night. Joined by one of the strongest bands of her career - including longtime guitarist, writer and punk legend in his own right, Lenny Kaye - Smith emerged from the shadows to give an exhilarating roller coaster ride of a performance that highlighted material from her latest album Trampin' along with mesmerizing numbers from her iconoclastic back catalog.
Patti Smith With long, mangy hair and an oversized black jacket draped over a plain white tee, the 57 year-old Smith not only still oozed a thick air of street cool but, with her four piece band that added a gentle touch to a few of the more fragile numbers while exuding enough power to lay a city the size of Tokyo to waste with gargantuan guitar riffs and Zeppelin-esque thunder-rhythms, she also delivered enough rock 'n' roll chutzpah to give any of today's garage rockers a run for their money.
The show opened on somewhat of a somber note with the new piano-driven ballad "Trampin'" before the band turned up the heat on "Jubilee," a blues-based rocker from the same album. Many of the newer numbers - most notably the near epic "Gandhi," which slowly climaxed into an impassioned fever-pitch from both Smith's guttural moans and the bands' dangerous attack on the arrangement - not only fit in perfectly with older classics from her albums Horses and Easter, but were, somewhat surprisingly, every bit as strong.
Although the crowd of aging hipsters, beats, punks and free-thinkers could be heard proudly singing along with Smith's 1988 hit "People Have The Power," it was this same roomful of admirers that stood with mouths agape through Patti's raspy, soul-spilling reading of her 1978 rock mantra "Ghost Dance." A similar rock 'n' roll awakening also occurred when Smith wrestled with her electric guitar and unleashed manic shards of dissonant feedback throughout the pounding number "25th Floor."
But it was during her signature bloodcurdling retelling of Van Morrison's "Gloria," played out as the evening's finale, that found Smith and company mixing the blood of tribal Indian and voodoo rites with the shamanism of rock 'n' roll. "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine," she angrily cried mid-song with arms flailing, spit flying and hips gyrating. This was not music for the weak or weary, but rather for those only brave enough to witness this emotional rock 'n' roll exorcism.
No less dangerous or commanding then when she first helped punk rock take its first steps out of NYC, Patti Smith is still - after all these years - the undeniable High Priestess of Cool.

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