Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Patti Smith Fascinates, Intrigues, Uplifts Austin - Stubb's, 4/30/13

For the past 40 years, Patti Smith has been the essence of the rock icon, and punk rock icon more specifically. She naturally fell into the perfect job for her - she doesn't pay a second of thought to what others think, while at the same time sharing her incredibly poetic, personal music with the world, a dichotomy which only serves to amp up the power of the messages in her music.

Patti's live show is the definition of simplicity and old school rock: there are absolutely no visuals on display (unless you count Patti's darting, witchy eyes), and she doesn't need opening act. This was one of the few shows on the Stubb's outdoor stage I've seen that was actually not sold out, which created a refreshing amount of personal space in the venue, while still buzzing with diehard fans. A line formed an hour prior to doors as concert-goers hoped to secure a spot mere feet away from the songstress herself.

While Patti doesn't tour often, she hasn't been gone from Austin for too long. Her show with long-time guitarist/pianist Tony Shanahan at the Paramount in October 2012, which featured acoustic songs along with passages from her acclaimed book, Just Kids, was a transcendental affair, so you can bet Austin was excited to have her back for a full-band show.

At Stubb's, she didn't disappoint, delivering a 20-song tour de force set filled with classics such as "Redondo Beach" and the always amazing "Pissing in a River." Four selections from her latest album Banga also received a warm reception, with "This is the Girl" making the most impact (her tribute to Amy Winehouse). She took a moment to honor the memory of recently-deceased legend George Jones, requesting a minute of pure silence before launching into a stellar version of "Beneath the Southern Cross."

The audience even got a CBGB-era anecdote about hanging out in the alley of the legendary rock club with Tom Verlaine of Television and seeing UFOs, which served as the introduction to the rarely-played "Distant Fingers," a song which she claimed Shanahan blackmailed her into playing at the show.

Ms. Smith's voice only seems to improve with age. While she may seem more reserved now than in her early New York days, her years of wisdom have brought an interesting mix of levity and gravity to her deeper vocals. She also has an excellent band backing her up. Lead guitarist Lenny Kaye took the reins mid-set for an energetic medley of covers that pushed the energy level in the venue to the next level.

Patti was beaming throughout the entire show. She seemed to be enjoying every moment of playing for her fans, not going through the motions. In a music scene completely inundated with up-and-coming artists dying to make a name for themselves - and willing to sell-out to the next car company for some exposure (even Iggy Pop is doing insurance commercials) - it's utterly satisfying to be able to enjoy a timeless artist such as Patti who refuses to compromise brilliance in any way.