Patti Smith makes up for Stockholm mishap at Cambridge Folk Festival
Cambridge set includes full version of 'Hard Rain'
Patti Smith’s Saturday evening set at the Cambridge Folk Festival sought to overturn a stuttering performance in Stockholm when she collected the Nobel Prize for Literature on behalf of the winner, Bob Dylan.
Apparently the occasion had gotten the better of her during the ceremony. “Unaccustomed to such an overwhelming case of nerves, I was unable to continue,” she said later of the incident 18 months ago.
Quite a surprise, not least because one of the things Patti really brings to the rock’n’roll – sorry folk music – party is her tendency to be incendiary both in terms of her lyrics and also in her onstage presence. She bosses the show. Nerves don’t come into it, and no one would dare do what someone did at a Liam Gallagher concert a couple of weeks ago – throw a fish onstage. The stage would burn, even if only in hell, if someone did that at a Patti Smith concert. Anyway as it was she didn’t like the dry ice effects that appeared on-stage during the first song.
“Turn the ****in’ smoke off, I’m not Metallica,” she growled at the festival’s stage team. The smoke disappeared faster than you could say “Ghost Dance”.
On a hot August night at the Cherry Hinton site the set list seemed flexible, and indeed included a tribute to Cambridge apparently made up earlier in the day – a tribute to Smith’s extraordinary energy and devotion to her muse.
The show starts (a little slowly, perhaps) with two classics – Wing and Redondo Beach. At the next between-songs break Patti explains that she’s “a little bit banged up” because she injured her hand – one of her fingers is bandaged and there’s a wrist support – so “sorry if I’m not my usual Nureyev self” then unexpectedly giggles and adds: “Actually what my doctor told me is that it’s an 11 year-old boy’s sports injury.” You had to laugh, and the huge crowd duly obliged. “Today is Barack Obama’s birthday, and I’d like to wish him happy birthday,” she adds to cheers. “Would that we could have those golden years back again.”
Introducing the next song, she referred to the incident in which she collected the Nobel Prize for Literature on behalf of Bob Dylan last year, and omitted some of the words to A Hard Rain’s A’Gonna Fall during her performance at the ceremony in Sweden. Or rather, as she put it, “I hadn’t forgotten the words that were now a part of me. I was simply unable to draw them out.”
She told her Cambridge Folk Festival audience: “People probably know that folk is not our forte… I would like to dedicate this to all friends in Stockholm,” and launched into a very vivid reinterpretation of Hard Rain and invited the audience to sing the chorus, which the crowd accomplished with commendable volume. New second guitarist Jack Petruzelli wrestled unlikely sonic soundscapes from his Gibson for the occasion, accompanying the veteran Lenny Kaye, who has been on board since ‘Horses’.
Patti’s comic streak comes out to play again when there’s a sound problem. “Tony has no power?” she asks out loud. “Well backstage, I can tell you, Tony has plenty of power, he’s a very powerful man…” Pause for effect. “I know that because I borrowed his charger.” Lols. “It could be my fault, I was hyperventilating a minute ago, maybe I pulled a wire out…”
A new song – We Free Kings – had been written earlier in the day. It followed a visit to King’s College where Patti saw ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ by Rubens and it caught her unawares. “I walked in not knowing the Three Kings awaited me.” The song sequel into an electrified We Three Kings of Orient Are and that segues into the nursery rhyme Star Light Star Bright. Maybe it was rather too experimental for some but it’s reminder that, at 71, Patti Smith remains unafraid to explore the past as much as she divines a future that she worries may be emblazoned with an apocalyptic motif.
Before closing with barnstorming versions of Because The Night and Gloria, Patti reflects on her initial outburst.
“I wanna say I do have great respect for Metallica,” she says. “My son, Jackson, showed me a YouTube video of Metallica playing live in Moscow and there were two million people there, if we could get two million people together for a rock concert we can stop wars and everything!”
Thanks for coming to town, Patti!