I’m standing within what seems to be an enormous ballcock. A vast, black rubber dome under which hundreds of people are gathered on this hot summer night.
I’m actually in Hyde Park to see the always imposing Patti Smith and her band. It’s a lovely warm evening and everyone is very relaxed including, for a change, Ms Smith herself.
A Patti Smith gig is often like being ushered into the presence of a capricious High Priestess, a wild-haired maven who dispenses wisdom and brickbats in arbitrary fashion. Not so (well, less so) tonight.
Smith runs onto the stage and immediately commands the attention of everyone here. Her shoulder-length grey hair is tossed from side to side, her sleeves are rolled up. She’s all business.
The voice is as imperious as ever, a deep and powerful roar. She is smiling a lot and joking with members of her band, particularly the gaunt and even-more-silver-haired than-she-is Lenny Kaye, who wrings solos from his guitar.
The set tonight draws heavily from her early works – a version of ‘Redondo Beach’ is especially fine, and she even deigns to perform her one bona fide mainstream hit ‘Because The Night’. The sound is crystal clear.
A highlight of the evening is a raucous and full throttle version of Jim Carroll’s ‘People Who Died’, dedicated to Carroll himself and amended by Smith to include references to other famous deceased New Yorkers, including, inevitably, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith.
Patti lectures the crowd on the importance of carrying a bottle of water with you in the hot weather, recounting how she had a bad experience in the past. These thoughts lead to a version of ‘Pissing in a River’ which is dedicated to “The coast of New Mexico”.
It’s an enthralling performance and the crowd love it. The band returns for an encore, an exhilarating fifteen minute semi-improvised anthemic jam that gradually reveals itself to be Smith’s traditional set closer ‘Gloria’. Magnificent.
Patti Smith just made my summer.