Freddie, Dolly, Bowie, Emmylou, Iggy, Liza, Syd, Elton. There’s a whole load more musical
luminaries born just after the Second World War that can be identified by a single name only.
And then there’s Patti. As subversive as Iggy, as poetic as Emmylou, as enduring as Dolly. And as Patti as Patti.
The Art Deco setting of the Bath Forum seems fitting to host the Smith and her band’s first indoor show in nineteen months. It doesn’t need any extra ornamentation to make tonight feel any more special, but the Forum provides it anyway. Romanesque murals, an elaborate moulded ceiling and cinema seats offset both the bright young things in sequinned hotpants, and ageing rockers with plaited beards.
On the dot of 8.30 the band take the stage, leaving those still queuing for their glasses of red
There’s a consistent shuffle of punters throughout the show, still getting used to seated gigs in these strange times. And Patti acknowledges this strangeness.
After walking onstage with her customary mug (is it her beloved coffee? Throatcote? Or something stronger? She’s not letting on), she opens with Grateful, and we’re in thrall. She’s quiet and watchful to start, a little hesitant.
It soon becomes clear to everyone in the room that we’re here for something like an exorcism, or a shamanic ritual, led by this woman that shouldn’t sing like that, shouldn’t move like that,
shouldn’t command us all like that.
The band is (same as it ever was) Lenny Kaye, Tony Shanahan and Jay Dee Daugherty, with the
relatively recent addition of Smith’s son, Jackson. They more than hold their own, as they always
have, against this force of nature. At times operatic in range, they rock, they roll, and they tell stories
with their instruments, even introducing a little ‘duelling banjos’ style at one point.
They play Redondo Beach, which Smith dedicates to the late Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, and a scorching version of Free Money, and there’s no more hesitance. Dancing Barefoot is, as ever, beautiful, and we’re treated to a rendition of Beneath The Southern Cross (which Smith dedicates to NHS workers) that is frankly stunning.
Smith leaves the stage during this, to allow the band to let go. There’s a discipline in this letting go
though, one that only comes with years of working together, and the joy that they show in this is
Patti returns to the stage in her customary Ann Demeulemeester black blazer, having jettisoned the
fringed jacket she started in. Dressed poetically, between songs she tells us stories about her
husband, her childhood, her influences.
There are covers of Stones songs (I’m Free, dedicated to Charlie Watts, which leads to a re-telling of the ‘you’re my fucking singer anecdote), a little Stevie Wonder (Blame It On The Sun), and an evocative One Too Many Mornings, which she introduces by telling us about the first time she heard Dylan. They finish-inevitably- with that mix-up of Land (Horses)and Gloria that is as life-affirming now as it’s ever been. There’s stomping, shimmying, a Watusi or two.
On returning to the stage, Smith speaks of the environment and the pandemic, building up to a
righteous version of People Have The Power that gets most of us on our feet, fists shaking in the air.
There’s a lovely version of Buddy Holly’s Not Fade Away to finish, that’s laugh-out-loud funny when
Patti seamlessly includes the line ‘…I forgot the fucking words…’ as if it were the original lyric.
The band stay onstage after she leaves, taking photos of the audience as a permanent reminder that we are here, experiencing this together again, and that it could be snatched away at any time. This was an evening watching a majestic performer who remains at the top of her game. Viva Patti! And Viva her fucking band!
By Sam Gray