Thursday, April 19, 2007

Patti Smith Kicks Off Worldwide Tour in NYC

With a new album ready to hit the streets, legendary punk rockette/poet Patti Smith kicked off her worldwide tour at NYC's gorgeous Hiro Ballroom with a sizzling 2-1/2 hour, two set, cover-filled performance that revealed a whole new side of the recently-inducted Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer.

After joking that her new record, "12"—which features 12 cover songs—was only conceived and created because her record company (Columbia) said she needed "a major hit," Smith launched into the song that she expects to make the grade: Tears for Fears' 80s pop smash Everybody Wants to Rule the World. So much is expected from her version of this song, she sang it again in the encore. Smith's version is no less pop-pie than the original, and it seems an odd choice, until she starts her rap about exactly what part of the world "everybody" wants to rule: "Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran..." In doing so, she gives the song a newly-enhanced political edge, adding a new layer of meaning and making it Patti-esque.

The rest of the first set included 10 songs from her upcoming record, starting with Bob Dylan (Changing of the Guards), and moving through rock's biggest stars including Neil Young (Helpless), Paul Simon (Boy in the Bubble), Rolling Stones (Gimme Shelter), The Doors (Soul Kitchen) and George Harrison/Beatles (Within You Without You). A special treat came with a cover of Lou Reed's Perfect Day. But the highlight—bar none—of the first set, and—presumably—the album, is a rip-roaring medley of Hendrix's Are You Experienced segueing through the looking glass into Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit. Guitarist Lenny Kaye dug his axe into its deepest groove—only the no smoking laws kept him from setting his guitar on fire. With Smith playing an Ornette Coleman psychedelic line on—true—clarinet, and special guest Eminem producer Luis Resto kicking the ivories with Ray Manzarek-squared intensity, the band soared and took everyone in the room with it.

And that was just the first half of the show.

Following a couple originals after a brief intermission, the cover parade began again in earnest, including a sweet version of REM's Everybody Hurts, a Lenny Kaye-led jolt of The Seeds' Pushin' Too Hard, and Smith's earlier cover hits Because the Night and Gloria, Smith capped the evening with a final encore that included an insightful version of Stevie Wonder's Pastime Paradise, and a raw-edged take on Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit (both on the new record).

Clearly, Smith is trying to crack the new era of the single, where albums "no longer sell." With 12 potential smash hit singles on the way, and her tour reminding people of how great a performer she is—while luring a new audience to her style—the record industry may come to realize that the reason whole albums aren't selling isn't because people don't want them, it's because most albums don't even have one single that can stand up to the power of 10 seconds of one song—cover or otherwise—by Patti Smith. And that's a fact.

News flash: Patti's going to be doing the narration for the upcoming Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie. That's a fact, too. Go figure.

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