Wednesday 30 June 2010

Patti Smith - Hyde Park 29 June 2010

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.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Joan Jett and The Blackhearts at 100 Club - 14 June 2010

It’s a mixed audience tonight. One third old rocker, one third old punk and one third lesbian. And everyone is rubbing along famously as we await a rare small venue appearance from the rock goddess that is Joan Jett.

Jett is having a bit of a renaissance. There is a well received new film coming out chronicling her early (and scarcely believable) experiences as one of notorious teen rockers The Runaways, and if that wasn’t enough, stadium filling US punks Green Day are taking Jett and her band The Blackhearts on a jaunt across Europe as their special guests.

Oh, and there’s a new Greatest Hits package out...

Jett admits to being 51 but looks at least 15 years younger, much more petite than you would think, her hair shorter, her dark eyes huge. And she is delighted to be here, mentioning at one point that the 100 Club was one of the few places that The Runaways never got around to playing back in the day.

If the current band are not the original Blackhearts, they are certainly the original something- the drummer and keyboard players are Neolithic in rock terms, the latter looking like an accountant who is doing this as an enjoyable vacation from his retirement home in Florida.

However, ignore my ageist jibes – this band is as tight as a pair of leather trousers. These guys ROCK in an utterly unironic and totally butt shakingly compelling way.

The Blackhearts’ sound veers from blues rock to glam rock to punk rock. Joan Jett is adept at whatever it takes to move a crowd. And boy, are we moved.

The set starts with the one-two double whammy of ‘Bad Reputation’ and ‘Cherrybomb’, soon to be followed by the glam stomp of ‘Do You Wanna Touch’ (Glitter rehabilitated for one night only). It’s aces all the way.

The ‘hits’ are disposed of without ceremony; even stadium-sized monster “I Love Rock And Roll” is approached via a segue from another track and well before the encores. The bonehead simplicity of this tune actually makes it one of Jett’s weakest songs, although I am sure that she is happy with the amount that it has contributed to her bank balance down the years.

Runaways material such as ‘School Days’ nestle comfortably with the later anthems like ‘I Hate Myself For Loving You’. Jett also has an eye for a cover version- from the Replacements track ‘Androgynous’ to Sly Stone’s ‘Everyday People’

By the end of the ninety minute set, everyone is wringing with sweat. I’m suffering from a heavy cold and I suspect that I’ve just infected everybody in the place – they’d tell you that it was worth it.