PATTI SMITH AND PHILIP GLASS:THE POET SPEAKS
The Poet Speaks- Patti Smith and Philip Glass
Patti Smith returns to Scotland in 2013 not as a rock and roll star but in her original guise as a poet accompanied by Philip Glass in their joint tribute to mutual friend, mentor and inspiration Allen Ginsberg. It is a role which suits Smith well as it was as a poet that she initially made her break and the rock star thing was some kind of unplanned but happy accident.
During the seventies she realised that instead of being a poet using the medium of rock and roll she had somehow become a rock star who was now playing at being a poet and in her eyes a poet is not something you can merely play at. Subsequently she retired as a rock star and only returned to that particular arena after the deaths of those close to her and she had reconciled the dichotomy of the two art forms within herself, now able to afford her two great loves the respect they both deserve.
So her position centre stage last night was met with the usual whoops and hollers her mere appearance merits but instead of electrifying the atmosphere with the onslaught of electric power she waited for a reverent hush to descend before summoning up a magic of a different nature.
Her first poem ‘Notes to the Future’ was fittingly one of her own writings and it became apparent immediately that her voice, wizened, croaky,, assured but still thick with youthful exuberance punctuating every syllable with significance and nuance can captivate as much as her primal rock and roll outpourings. Accompanied by Glass’s tinkling piano strains you could hear the scream of a butterfly in the full to capacity Playhouse. Ginsberg’s ‘Wichita Vortex Sutra’ with its references to ‘Language taxed by war’ followed on from this impressive opening with accompaniment not merely assisting the words but helping them to gain flight.
Another of Smith’s own poems followed this before she introduced Tony Shanahan on guitar and stepped briefly into her more familiar role-unable to abandon her rock and roll leanings completely and why the Hell should she when she doesn’t merely play either of these roles but actually lives them?- she gave a powerful acoustic rendition of ‘Dancin’ Barefoot’ proving her voice does not need the raw power of a full band to generate an electric warrior with savage intention.
A reading of ‘Escape at Bedtime’ continued this feel but it was a cover of John Lennon’s ‘Beautiful Boy’ and its now classic line ‘Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans’ which consolidated her stance and stood alone as a thing of true beauty. Mawkish, lachrymose and somewhat indulgent in the hands of its composer, Smith stripped it back and transformed it into a work of poignancy and awe inducing intensity. Childhood favourite Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Land of Nod’ paved the way neatly for a rousing version of ‘Pissing in a River’ before Smith left the stage for Glass to take centre position and perform three small pieces cohered into one solitary lengthy piece.
This section of the show seemed to cause unrest among several audience members-it is hard to share a stage with someone of Smith’s stature but Glass is as strong and important an artist as she- but I found it breathtaking even if his visual dynamic and charismatic presence was not as strong as his cohort and collaborator.
Smith returned to perform Ginsberg’s tribute to one of his favourite family members ‘To Aunt Rose’ before a totally stunning, heartfelt and engrossing reading of his ‘On the Cremation of Chogyam Trungpa Vidyahara’ a tribute to his former teacher and mentor who performed the same role for him as he performed for Smith and Glass. ‘Holy’ –a footnote to the definitive beat poem ‘Howl’- introduced verbal riffing which was rock and roll in all but name and execution and rounded off a totally stunning show.
Pausing only for the rapturous applause to die down the trio returned to the stage for a, more than usually, relaxed version of ‘People Have the Power’ which for me is not one of Smith’s greater songs but one but admittedly preferable in this incarnation than in its more usual rebel rousing style.
So Patti Smith proved yet again that whatever it is she has, she still has it. Philip Glass more than ably matched her onstage and Tony Shanahan was a more than welcome addition but somehow it was still Patti’s show all the way!