Reviewed at the State Theatre on Sunday April 9 (photo by Ashley Mar)
Even if these aren’t the end times, they certainly feel like them: every day there’s another omen, from chemical weapon attacks to live streams of Tomahawks taking off from silent, ugly warships. So here’s the million-dollar question: what the fuck is art meant to do about it? And, more to the point, as civilisation seemingly slides towards the horror of a third global war, why should anyone spend a Sunday evening revisiting an album from the relative safe haven of 1975?
The answer, of course, is because the album in question, Horses, was penned by one Patti Smith. ’75 might look like an idyllic utopia now, full of creatives spinning genius in the corners of dive bars, but Smith has always known what’s up. And she proved it at her State Theatre show, taking to the stage clad in the black boots of a revolutionary to spit on the floor and blast through a set more powerful than any this critic has ever seen.
In that way, she was a far cry from the gentle, twinkling figure who appeared recently at a Nobel Prize ceremony in place of Bob Dylan. Instead, she was full of the fiercest kind of love, hurling expletives at a crowd member who accidentally left his flash on while snapping a photo, and barking out her beat poetry to a stunned, unprepared audience.
This was no nostalgia trip, and although Horses was played in full, it was less the case of airing an antique and more the reawakening of some ancient, terrifying force. After all, Horses is its own rebuke to the forces of oppression and violence: a trembling, tortured document that was written for this world, and for these horrors.
The end goal of the proceedings was nothing less than absolution. “Use your voice,” Smith screamed during set closer ‘My Generation’, pulling the strings off her guitar one by one. Out of anyone else’s mouth, the words might have seemed insincere; the kind of weak platitude printed on a Hallmark card. But from Smith, they seemed like real advice, shrapnel flying off the blunt force of a singer almost five decades into her career and still playing shows with all the intensity of a newcomer.
And though it might be too much to say the audience stumbled out into the universe ready to change it, certainly they found themselves changed – shocked into a state of profound, cathartic empathy, woken up to the world. That, after all, is what art is meant to do.