The greatest living rock performer? It's hard to think of any of her peers who've managed to keep their live shows both physically thrilling and smart. Or of any rising combo who wouldn't pale beside her. When other legends (say, Lou Reed) recite poetry mid-set, it's embarrassing and hubristic. When Patti does it, it's as electric as the best guitar riff. Others spout ideological platitudes, Patti makes you volunteer to assassinate Bush right now.

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Patti Smith – ULU, London

The greatest living rock performer? It’s hard to think of any of her peers who’ve managed to keep their live shows both physically thrilling and smart. Or of any rising combo who wouldn’t pale beside her. When other legends (say, Lou Reed) recite poetry mid-set, it’s embarrassing and hubristic. When Patti does it, it’s as electric as the best guitar riff. Others spout ideological platitudes, Patti makes you volunteer to assassinate Bush right now. And if the newer American bands might one day add reckless passion to their studied cool, will they ever fuse the two as seamlessly as Smith does?

This is supposed to be a low-key warm-up for her:still, almost accidentally, it’s close to apocalyptic. This is a pre-release try-out for new material from the Trampin’album. “It’s a tradition,” she says, “that when we have a new album we first mess it up real bad like this to a select audience in New York and London.” They don’t mess it up, and I’m with the majority saying Trampin’is her best since 1988’s Dream Of Life. Not that this becomes a showcase:the premieres, like “Jubilee” and “Stride Of The Mind”, are surrounded by what Lenny Kaye might call nuggets, with a stirring opening of “Privilege (Set Me Free)” and “Break It Up”. As she roars “I’m so young, so goddam young” within five minutes of the off, you get that tingle that tells you a gig’s going to be special. Actually, the words “Patti Smith” on the ticket kind of gave that away anyway.

Racing then through “Free Money” and “Because The Night”, soaring through “Pissing In A River” and “Beneath The Southern Cross”, getting sunny on “Redondo Beach”, this provides the hoped-for heated career overview while still denying those who holler for “Ask The Angels”. “She’s not a fuckin’jukebox, let her play what she wants,” yells a wise punter. “I most surely will,” she smiles, pausing only to play her clarinet, read Blake, lose her thread, crack jokes and pay lip service to St Paddy’s Day: “Don’t drink green beer. Just brown beer. Then water.”

After a spot-on, considered rant (Smith is one of the few people who can rant with composure) against war-hungry corporations, the band, with Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty making noises as nimble and sharp as their reputations, fire into a climax of “People Have The Power” and “Gloria”, which is, of course, irresistible. Is it a clich