Patti Smith - Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton
Had there been a Glastonbury 2012, the thousands of revellers would have been leaving la-la land and returning to their normal lives on the same day Patti Smith tore Wolverhampton a new one. But who needs Glasto, when 65 year-old punk poet Smith delivers the music, hedonism and political power of the festival in a single two-hour set that leaves younger performers feeling less vital than ever before?
In support of new album Banga, Smith and her four-man band chose virgin territory in the shape of Wolverhampton to launch the new tour. The setlist is a nicely balanced blend of old and new but, let's face it, the goodwill Smith commands from her loyal subjects (a mix of old-time hippies, leather-clad rocker types, middle-aged bohemians and a younger generation of pensive-looking gentlemen) suggests she could have walked on, said hello and made a swift exit and this brief appearance would have satisfied. The devotees laugh when she cracks between-song funnies, are respectfully reverent when she refers to issues such as a recent earthquake in Japan, and are alternatively awed and raucous when she's mid-song. It is clear that to many here, she is a hero - and this is a gig that they will remember long after she's preached her eloquent words at the tour's end.
Fortunately, her voice has weathered well and, from opener 'Dancing Barefoot' on, lends a gravitas to the songs even when four guitars are being played at the same time. Inevitably, it's the more familiar anthems that are greeted with the biggest reaction, but new tracks 'April Fools' and 'Maria' help form a coherent setlist that blends down-the-line rockers with more thoughtful, mid-tempo ballads. As already inferred, Smith is a commanding presence even when no music is being played, her poet's grasp of the language turning an account of her visit to Wolverhampton's St Peter's Church into something elegant and almost musical in itself. The actual music is the most thrilling thing here though, with early highlights from Smith's seminal Horses debut ('Redondo Beach', 'Free Money') being trumped in an affirming final third signalled by the instantly recognisable piano intro to fist-in-the-air anthem 'Because the Night'.
It's not over until Smith says so though, and after a breathless 'Gloria' comes an encore that will go down in history as one of my favourite ever gig memories. Following a beautiful, elegiac tribute to Amy Winehouse ('This is the Girl', a retro-tinged, shoo-wop ballad the girl herself would have likely loved), a ruckus breaks out in the front rows between two young women and Smith enquires as to the problem - what amounts to some 'silly fucking bitch' having apparently pushed an unhappy and obviously drunk punter is silenced with Smith's withering, and utterly brilliant, burn that there are 'much bigger problems in Somalia'. She swiftly segues into a ferocious one-two punch of Banga's title track and 'Rock N Roll Nigger', the shallow altercation that dampened Winehouse's tribute seemingly spurring Smith into a righteous fury that drives the songs and makes for an explosive end to the show. What leaves the Wulfrun that night is a sweaty, sweaty mess but one sweaty, sweaty mess that knows it has just witnessed something great.