The Patti Smith Quartet, Vicar Street, Dublin, Ireland, 27 & 28 June 2024

If she has taught us nothing else she has taught us how to continue to walk with the dead.

The Patti Smith Quartet, Vicar Street, Dublin, Ireland, 27 & 28 June 2024
Vicar Street, 27 June

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As Patti Smith made her entrance onstage for the first of her two sold-out nights at Dublin’s Vicar Street, she made a point of placing her foot on the monitor and rolling up her pants legs to reveal a pair of white high top Pro Keds. She’d later explain that she was wearing sneakers because the stage was carpeted and she couldn’t move well in her usual regulation boots. I know you’re probably going to think that none of this is a big deal but what we refer to around here as “The Uniform” isn’t trivial. But the sneakers delighted her and the audience’s warmth delighted her and she giggled and had fun with the crowd and the band. Night one was definitely a special moment from end to end, but it’s not like Friday night wasn’t great as well, just felt a little more uneven in spots. 

These two nights in Dublin were the second and third of her 2024 European outing, and the setlist has been not so much rewritten as gently rearranged, like plumping up the couch pillows for your guests. I go to these shows because it is just what I do – you are a Patti Smith fan, you go see her play – but it is less about chasing a setlist than it is about the quality of the energy, the overall theme, the telling and the retelling of stories. And I think, a lot, about how Patti Smith commands a stage, and how that can shift and change show to show but also song to song, and also even within the same song. Whether you saw her 20 years ago or 40 years ago you’d still recognize it, it would all still feel familiar. She has an easy command, an inherent comfort, but also an energy that requests – not demands – focus. (“We are all free,” to quote her, even though it’s not about this exactly.) 

Back in February when I was queuing for the Lunar New Year show at the Bowery Ballroom a friend said, “None of this is guaranteed,” and it was a simple statement meant literally at the time but it’s something I keep coming back to. It is Patti’s age, it is all of our health, it is the state of the world, it is even as simple as our abilities to travel any distance, even if it’s just across town, and be able to go to a show. None of this is guaranteed. 

Vicar Street is a warm and lovely little venue that holds anywhere from 1000-1500 depending if it’s seated or GA. For Patti it was a mix (floor was GA, balcony was seated) so let’s call it 1200. It didn’t feel that large – it felt very Bowery Ballroom in terms of energy and that holds half the amount.

I was delighted that she opened with “Summer Cannibals,” because I haven’t heard it for a while and it is a light and poppy delight that she clearly enjoys singing. It has its roots as an unfinished song Fred “Sonic” Smith originally wrote in his MC5 days and that Lenny Kaye found on a tape in a drawer in the Smith home after Fred’s passing, when he’d come out to Detroit (okay, fine, Saint Clair Shores, cards only, usual address) to help Patti start pulling together a way to get back to work. These are the kinds of thoughts that run through my head during a show. (I am a delight to be around.)

But that train of thought wasn’t a stretch. She would remind us later that it had been 30 years since Fred had passed, right before explaining that sometimes she comes to things late and she wanted to sing this song that she’d heard and liked and that it reminded her of him. It was Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness,” and at first it was just Patti singing a song that she liked, with some good lines, but then she’s singing “kiss me hard before you go / i just wanted you to know / baby, you’re the best” and she is legitimately crying and it isn’t staged and it isn’t maudlin, it is real and it is visceral. If she has taught us nothing else she has taught us how to continue to walk with the dead. She has taught us to pay attention to dates and to remember anniversaries and to keep people alive by talking about them. It was also just Patti singing a song she thought was cool, which is also just something that she does, and has always done. She’s sung Rihanna, she covered “Vertigo” out of nowhere a few years ago, back in the day she covered Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life.” 

This was a busy week in Dublin; aside from the two Patti shows it was also Dublin Pride on the Saturday and three nights of Taylor Swift at the Aviva Stadium on the weekend. (Patti would come out night two and declare, “I’m no Dylan Thomas but I am Patti Smith,” a thing that delighted the various Swifties I ran into.) There were Pride and New Progress Pride flags flying all over Dublin, and this is probably why the intro to “Redondo Beach” on the first night changed to “Redondo / is a beach / where / they / she / her / everybody / loves everybody”. “Redondo” is a heavy reggae vibe and Jackson Smith doesn’t have Lenny Kaye’s lagniappe, he’s tighter and more economical which drives the songs, particularly this one, in a different way. I dug it. 

This audience just glowed with affection for Patti. Halfway through the show I was trying to convince myself that I will just save my money and go see shows over here because there was so much love and energy and attention being directed at her and you could hear it and she could feel it. Every European fan I chatted with told me that they have the exact same problem with loud talkers at concerts as we do – Friday night it was deafening in spots, and there were just as many people trying to get her attention with what I am sure they thought were important declarations between songs while she was speaking – but I always feel like the level of attention aimed at the actual performance is higher. I also didn’t have to worry about what size my bag was and the security treated us well and the sound in the venue was phenomenal even all the way at the front.

If you’re a subscriber to Patti’s newsletter, you may have seen her practicing Dylan’s “Man In the Long Black Coat,” from 1989’s Oh Mercy. It was a beautiful thing to watch, her sitting there with an acoustic guitar, working to get the words down so that later she could work it out with Tony Shanahan and the rest of the band. The transformation was a tribute to her love of Dylan and just, you know, working your way through things. She does a great Dylan, even when it’s subconscious, and while it was a tribute it was also very much her version, focused and muscular, and while her instrumentation was more straightforward the power in her rendition was in the vocals. An absolute highlight of both nights. Night two she told a story about listening to that particular song over and over again when Jackson was a small boy and how it took him a while to realize that it was the same song. (I thought about how when Patti first went back on the road in 1995 and she’d play “The Jackson Song” he’d yell from the audience to not play it.)

There were a lot of song request yells during the second night and at one point Patti noted that she was kind of rebellious, e.g., yelling obnoxiously for a song would make her not play it. I would think of this later about her introductions of both “Ghost Dance” and “Peaceable Kingdom,” both of which were vivid, heartfelt, deeply political, but decidedly non-specific. She’s not going to make a statement that she doesn’t feel comfortable with and she is angry about many injustices happening in many places. A while back she commented that she was focused on the well-being of children everywhere and she’s remained consistent about that, riffing at various points of the set about inequities against children everywhere from the Sudan to Gaza. People would like her to be specific to their cause but those people also forgot, or didn’t ever know, that she used to have a Palestinian flag on her amp as far back as 2004 (possibly earlier; this is what I can remember myself). 

Other highlights: “Because the Night” is back to anthem status. There were times in the past, especially in the US, where the audience didn’t meet it with the enthusiasm it deserved, so it felt a little obligatory – not that she phoned it in or didn’t enjoy playing it (she’d just drop it if she did) but it didn’t land as strongly as it should. But that’s cycled around there and over here, in a country where they absolutely love them some Springsteen, it was received with the adulation it’s always deserved. I never stop marveling at the perfection of “love is a ring/the telephone.” And of course she tied it into Fred, again, how could she not, reminding us that he was her boyfriend at the time she wrote it (“He’s still my boyfriend,” she’d say). 

“Boy Cried Wolf” has been a stalwart of these past few years and this was the moment where I warmed up to European quartet member Seb Rochford, taking the place of Jay Dee Daugherty on these outings. He is more minimalist than Jay Dee and that works very well with the material of more recent vintage. (I also completely forgot he was in the band/couldn’t have picked him out of a lineup even if I had and he likes to wear very distinctive clothing and when he walked out of the venue early in the afternoon I thought he worked at the venue and was joking about his formal wear. I felt like an idiot later.)  I have a tenuous relationship with “Nine” and sometimes can’t follow it but I particularly admired Jackson’s solo both nights. I wrote “very Edge” in my notes night one and then immediately crossed it out because Verlaine played that solo and again, here we are, full circle. (By that I mean that the former was immensely influenced by the latter and that connection was one of the main elements that attracted me to that local band back in 1981. I am in Dublin, they are on my mind.)

It is also the 30th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s passing, and the main set ended both nights with a combination of “About A Boy” into “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a song she’d covered on her 2007 covers album, Twelve. I have my issues with that record as a project so if you’re reading this and didn’t know that she’d recorded it I’m not suggesting you run out and buy it because what’s missing from that record is the emotional connection and the oomph and verve of the live renditions. At Vicar Street, she explained (as she has before) that both she and Fred were struck hard by Kurt’s passing, on many levels, and she’s telling the story onstage and the entire theater is just silent, dead silent, taking it all in. (The Friday night crowd was a lot louder but it was a Friday night.)

“About A Boy” never sounded so Nirvana-esque to me as it did tonight; part of that is Jackson, but some of it is probably that it never hit me in quite the same way before. It’s the fact that she’s onstage with a smaller band and she made the point and didn’t really need to segue into “Smells Like Teen Spirit” but that in itself was spellbinding. “About A Boy” is pure heartbreak but “Teen Spirit” was borderline feral. I think about what it would have sounded like if Sonic ever played it. But instead we have Jackson who manifests his father’s work and is also very much his own voice and you absolutely believed it. You felt it. 

Aside from “Summertime Sadness” the first night, the other big moment for me was at the end of the second night. The band have walked offstage and have returned for the encore. If you’ve seen a Patti Smith show any time in the last 20 years you know it’s going to be “People Have The Power” and that’s not a complaint, it is simply a statement of fact and it is also just a thing that is absolutely right and proper, that that song should end her shows from now until forever – it should be the fucking national anthem, of many countries, if you ask me – but instead Tony hits those glorious (to quote Lenny Kaye) chords on the piano and the place goes absolutely bonkers. 

I love that there are people who have never seen her do it or have waited their whole lives to see this one particular moment, who remember the first time the needle dropped into the groove or they clicked the play button and there it was, a song that was about to change their life. But it’s also: this is Ireland. I understand that Van Morrison and Them started singing their version of “Gloria” closer to Belfast, but it was one of those moments where the universe aligned for a second. The entire show has been so many full circles – there are always many full circles at a Patti Smith show, both obvious and not-so-obvious – but this one was particularly enormous, overwhelming, enveloping. 

I hugged my New York friends goodbye and bounced out of the venue in time to catch the 123 bus back to my hotel on the north side.

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