posted 2011-11-18 14:56:18

People Have the Power: A Night to Remember


Patti Smith performing in concert at Hunter College. Photo by Mimiko Watanabe
Patti Smith at the Kaye Playhouse

Alden Burke

Staff Writer

Sporting a loosely fitted pair of black suit pants, an oversized blazer, and black lace up boots, Patti Smith conjured the image of a French symbolist poet as she took the stage at the Kaye Playhouse on Tuesday, October 11th. Geoffrey Burleson, a music professor at Hunter, introduced Smith and her band. Smith walked on stage with a smile on her face, partly hidden by her long hair. She began the show with her song “Grateful,” telling the audience it was an appropriate start seeing as to how thankful she was for Hunter College to give her the opportunity for having her art exhibit there. Lenny Kaye, her longtime songwriting partner and guitarist, and Jessie Smith, her daughter and pianist, accompanied Smith during the performance. There were minor interruptions through out the set-the first one being a loud wave of feedback, which was present during the first song. As opposed to a negative reaction, Smith handled the situation comically. “Jimi Hendrix is here,” she said. After the first song, Smith read a poem entitled “Perfect Moon.” The poem was an ode to the full moon. But before Smith started, she realized that she had forgotten her glasses in the dressing room. As Lenny Kaye ran to the dressing room to the grab them, Smith provided some words of wisdom to performers. “I have built a reputation on making mistakes. If something isn’t awkward or goes wrong, I feel like a failure,” she said.

The performance was intriguing due to the mixture of song and poetry. At particular moments during the performance she intertwined both of these creative elements. During “Beneath the Southern Cross,” Smith took a poem which she had written, and used Kaye to accompany her. This created a specific tone and emphasis, turning the lonely poem into a dynamic and powerful song.

One of the most sentimental moments of the show was when Smith read passages from her diary following the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11. A wave of sincerity filled the room. Her reading of the piece, worked in conjunction with her current art exhibit 9.11 Babelogue, which is on display at the Leubsdorf Art Gallery at Hunter College until December 3, 2011. The poem, one of the lengthier pieces of the night, truly demonstrated Smith’s ability as a writer to evoke both images and emotion. The piece tells of her experience between the day of the attack and September 16, and her journey to discover what the Twin Towers meant to her. Both riveting and honest, the diary entries display Smith’s talent as a poet.

After the reading, Smith continued the performance with more lively songs, and as she became more engaged and passionate on stage, the audience followed suit, fervently clapping and hollering when fitting. For her final song, Smith performed the ever-famous “People Have the Power” which she so appropriately dedicated to those protesting down at Occupy Wall Street. She told the audience that in order to make change, these small manifestations must grow, and we, as people, have the power to make change if we so choose. As Smith moved across the stage singing “ I believe everything we dream/ can come to pass through our union. We can turn the world around/ we can turn the earth's revolution/ we have the power. People have the power,” people got out from their seats to move closer to the stage, standing in the aisles, their hands in the air and singing along just as passionately.

After the song ended, Smith and her band mates made the crowd wait for her to come back, and then went right on into the encore, which comprised of another poem put to Kaye’s guitar, and a song written by her and Bruce Springsteen, “Because the Night.” Although Smith messed up early in the song, once she got back into it, the entire crowd was on their feet, cheering, clapping, and singing along.

Although not necessarily conventional, the candidness of the show, and Smith’s passion and ability to engage the audience resulted in a very powerful and moving performance by the iconic Patti Smith.